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American Swedish Institute expanding both its building and its mission

The Carl and Leslie Nelson Cultural Center
American Swedish Institute
The Carl and Leslie Nelson Cultural Center is a modern addition to the historic Turnblad Mansion, home of the American Swedish Institute since 1929.

Watch out, Sons of Norway — the Swedes are coming after you.

As the American Swedish Institute prepares to open a new, 34,000-square-foot addition to its historic Minneapolis headquarters this Saturday, the organization is positioning itself as a leader in promoting not only Swedish culture, but Nordic culture as a whole.

And as Minnesota’s century-old wave of Nordic immigration recedes into history, the institute sees an even larger role for itself as an interpreter of the overall immigrant experience, reaching out to today’s African, Asian and Hispanic immigrants.

“We have a role to play for all sorts of people in the broader community,” said Bruce Karstadt, the institute’s president and CEO. “The first ripple out can be viewed as the Nordic-American community. We have wonderful collaborators and partners in the Finnish, Icelandic, Danish and Norwegian-American communities.

“The next ripple is the Phillips West neighborhood. We are very proud to be a part of this neighborhood and we want to be a resource for the residents.

“And then there are the new immigrant communities,” Karstadt said. “Our story is rooted in an immigration that happened in the 19th and early 20th centuries. So how do we connect with people drawn from new arrival communities?”

In recent years, Karstadt said, the institute has hosted visiting officials from Sweden, Denmark and Norway who are studying the successful assimilation of Somali immigrants in Minneapolis and seeking insight into how can they assist Somali immigrant communities in their own nations.

But the focal point of the institute’s activities right now is the new Carl and Leslie Nelson Cultural Center. More than a decade in the planning, the center was designed by HGA Architects of Minneapolis and is expected to receive certification as a LEED Gold building.

Features of the Nelson Cultural Center include FIKA, a new cafe featuring quick bites and sit-down Nordic inspired cuisine, coffee and pastries; new museum shop space; a flexible event space seating 300 for a lecture or concert, or 225 for dinner; a glass-enclosed reception commons; new galleries for traveling and original exhibits; a large studio and crafts workshop; and expanded spaces for meetings, events and community gatherings.

The center will be formally dedicated Oct. 6 by King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden. And don’t rule out an appearance by comedian Stephen Colbert, who has recently been on a crusade to take over the official Twitter account of Sweden, which allows a different citizen to manage its account each week.

Colbert has so far been rebuffed by Sweden, which prompted the Swedish Institute to offer him its own Twitter account (@AmSwedInstitute) for the week of the Nelson Center’s Grand Öpening.

“I’ve slept lightly, waiting for the call from Mr. Colbert,” Karstadt said with a laugh. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

IF YOU GO
What:
Grand Öpening, Carl and Leslie Nelson Cultural Center
Where: American Swedish Institute, 2600 Park Ave., Minneapolis
When: Saturday, June 30, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Admission: Free
Activities include: ABBA sing-along; glass blowing, woodcarving and felting demonstrations; a new exhibit by tapestry artist Helena Hernmarck; music and dance performances throughout the day; 7 p.m. concert by Yggdrasil and Eivør Duo; children’s games and activities.

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