Founded on May 7th, 1986, Swiss Institute (SI) was officially registered with the State and City of New York as an independent, not-for-profit organization on September 12th, 1986. Originally, SI occupied two living rooms at the Swiss Townhouse at 35 West 67th Street, and was run entirely by volunteers. Since then, each year has been marked by the growth in programs, outreach, and funding. The Swiss Center Foundation provided important support helping Swiss Institute to start its program. In 1990, though Swiss Institute is not affiliated with the Swiss government, the Swiss government agreed to give the Institute an annual contribution, in addition to the amount already awarded by Pro Helvetia, the Art Council of Switzerland. Both contributions were and continue to be approved by a committee of experts. Between June 30, 1992 and June 30 1995, corporate contributions more than doubled. In 1994, SI moved to a large loft in SoHo, in the center of the New York art scene, where there is an interested art audience. The loft's raw space was constructed to museum-standard specifications by architects Pagnamenta & Torriani. Since September 2011, Swiss Institute has accomplished its long-term goal of moving into a street-level building at 18 Wooster Street (formerly home to Deitch Projects).
The Swiss Institute has grown from a showcase of Swiss art and artists for a mostly Swiss audience, into an innovative international venue for art that provides a significant forum for cultural dialogue between Switzerland, Europe, and the United States. This unique angle fosters the interaction between the Swiss and the many other communities and nationalities found in New York City. The result is a distinctive view of art and a way of thinking which asks audiences to break with traditional assumptions about art and national stereotypes.