I keep imagining the recent planning meetings happening among staff at the American Swedish Institute. Picture them, clipboards and iPads in hand as they prepare for this weekend’s Nelson Cultural Center Grand Öpening:
“Wandering ABBA impersonators?”
“Representatives from Nice Ride and Eureka Recycling and compostables so that our event is zero-waste?”
“Emphasis on a community center that facilitates and is inviting to all cultures, and especially to our diverse neighbors?”
“Nordic trivia, crafts, dancing, and songs?”
“Meatballs on a stick with a side of lingonberries, and organic hot dogs served Swedish-style with mashed potatoes?”
“Super cool Helena Hernmarck tapestry exhibit that showcases our stunning commissioned piece?”
“An appearance by Pippi?”
“Outdoor concert with Nordic folk metal musicians Eivør and Yggdrasil?”
“Brilliant marketing campaign that includes an invitation to Steven Colbert to take over our Twitter feed?”
“Goat to graze on green roof?”
“Oh heck yes! Check!”
One of my favorite stories coming out of the Öpening is that of Safari Express which is owned by Somalis who came to America by way of Stockholm. As one ASI staff member told me, “A Swedish speaking Somali will be selling East African food!” On Saturday you’ll be able to find African cuisine alongside the Swedish pancakes and the famous Gustavus Adolphus College Rye Bread (there was a collective swoon among former Gusties when that rye bread announcement was made).
Another of my favorite stories from the Öpening is that Fika, the Swedish cafe located in the Nelson Cultural Center, is finally opening. Saturday will be a soft opening, but soon they’ll offer breakfast and lunch, as well as dinner on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Best, they’ll be open to the public, not just museum patrons. I was hoping for a sneak peek at the menu, but was told it is still in development (a.k.a. a secret).
We ASI members and volunteers have been hearing and talking about the addition for years. During early planning sessions it felt like the project would never acquire the financing or popularity it needed to get built. I recall a group of us placing post-it notes on a board to vote for the things we wanted most out of the new space. My wishes included a Scandinavian restaurant, a library, and a center that accentuates and celebrates modern Sweden with its sustainable practices and, thanks to immigration, an increasingly diverse population (and also reflects the south Minneapolis neighborhood where ASI resides). I am thrilled that the Nelson Cultural Center offers and embodies all of these things. The history of Swedishness and immigration to America is displayed in our beloved Turnblad Mansion, and it is finally physically and symbolically linked to a sleek contemporary version.