… and roots run deep in Minnesota (photograph from a wing of the old Swan J. Turnblad mansion, presently the American Swedish Institute. The newspaperman brought in carpenters and handy men from Sweden to create the astonishing interior and much of the furniture of the mansion.)
Bruce Karstadt, president and CEO of the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, rests comfortably after a successful ‘Linking Generations’ campaign of the first few years of the twenty-first century.
ASI of the new century
According to the locals (who should know), no cultural heritage institution does a better job of preserving links to the old world than the American Swedish Institute, housed in a spectacular storybook mansion on Park Avenue. Ask a Minnesotan about Sweden and you're likely to evoke memories of Grandma's Christmas cookies, Grandpa's accordion, and family tales of immigrant hardship – elements that the institute can readily supply.
Presently the institute is exhibiting “A Sleigh Ride Together with You” about the pops composer Leroy Anderson (through Jan. 18, 2009), "Nordic Christmas" (also through Jan. 18, 2009), and later in January, “Radiant Knits: The Bohus Tradition”, on the history and tradition of the garment industry from the Swedish province of Bohuslän.
What's often forgotten while looking at cultural heritage institutions is that time moves on. Modern-day Nordic countries are a far cry from the lands of family lore. That's why the institute's $19 million expansion, the “Linking Generations” campaign, is so exciting. Karstadt points out the importance of incorporating new elements into the institute’s activities. “While continuing to expand our traditional programs it has become ever more important to also meet the expectations from the younger generations, who view ethnic identity not so much in terms of traditions or tangible objects but in terms of values. Our expansion is important in the sense that it will allow us to create spaces that incorporate the different ways members want to express their ethnicity.”
According to the initial goals, expansion of the American Swedish Institute will help another generation take root and flourish while keeping the Swedish connections alive and strong. Karstadt continues, “…this campaign has, quite frankly, been a journey that has taken us in a few from the onset unforeseen directions… so much has been accomplished… acquisition of the adjoining Ebenezer Hall property, mansion restoration, new parking and festival grounds, endowment growth….”
The ASI Board of Trustees in September elected HGA Architects and Designers to design the additions and further renovations for the institute. The architectural commission includes a new Nelson Education and Cultural Center, an international cultural center, and improvements to the historic 1908 Turnblad mansion itself. “The design of the additions will consider contemporary and traditional Swedish aesthetics and will prioritize the use of sustainable technologies,” according to initial plans from the architects and the Board of Trustees. The additional space will allow the institute to capture the sleeker essence of contemporary Sweden and to take better care of the delicate mansion next door. (It's hard to imagine the old house a suitable venue for, say, a concert of modern Swedish folk- or other music, an avant-garde art show, a symposium on modern urban planning, a cooking exhibition by one of Sweden’s contemporary chefs or a golf clinic led by Anika Sörenstam or Jesper Parnevik.)
Although always considered to celebrate the shared culture, heritage, and friendship among all of the Nordic countries, the institute has more recently begun to reach further out to the broader Nordic communities of Minnesota. A more complete and contemporary American Swedish Institute will bolster its Minneapolis neighborhood, upgrade an already valuable Swedish Minnesotan attraction and, perhaps most importantly, provide an impressive model for other Nordic-American institutions.
For more information see: www.americanswedishinst.org
The American Swedish Institute is at 2600 Park Ave. in Minneapolis.
Founded in 1929 by Swan J. Turnblad, the American Swedish Institute is an historic house/museum offering a variety of programs designed to celebrate Swedish culture. The Turnblad Mansion, which houses the institute, is on the National Register of Historic Places.