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Why an October visit by Sweden’s royal couple matters to us today

Their Majesties King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden
Courtesy of Kungahuset.se
Their Majesties King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia
of Sweden

Minnesotans are a pragmatic people. So, while most of us know that our state is home to the country’s largest Swedish population, unless we’re hunting down our great-grandma’s Swedish meatball recipe or listening to a high-school teacher drill down a long list of Johnsons at a graduation procession, we don’t spend much time reflecting on our Swedish heritage. In fact, perhaps, we don’t spend much time thinking about cultural history at all.

That will change for some of us on the first weekend in October.

On Thursday, Oct. 4, Their Majesties King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden will arrive in Minnesota for a cultural visit. They will attend events at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. to commemorate the 150th anniversary of its founding by Swedish immigrants. On Saturday, the royal entourage will visit the American Swedish Institute (ASI), where they’ll attend a dedication ceremony in honor of the new Carl and Leslie Nelson Cultural Center, which was completed this past June.

ASI and Gustavus are co-hosting Their Majesties. The two organizations look forward to working with each other to offer programs for the entire community. With the Nelson Cultural Center’s new Edward and Patricia Lindell Office Suite, Gustavus now has a Twin Cities presence for outreach and educational programming. 

'With the times'

Already on its way to becoming a regional cultural landmark, ASI’s Nelson Cultural Center is a welcoming place of learning. Its sleek, contemporary Swedish lines and environmentally advanced design – expected to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification – stands in contrast to its regal neighbor on campus: the majestic, French chateau-style Turnblad Mansion, erected by Swedish immigrants in 1903. The dynamic interplay between the two reflects values of preserving and celebrating heritage while connecting to contemporary Nordic culture.

It’s a tenor that is neatly captured in the motto of King Carl XVI Gustaf: “For Sweden – With the Times.” He’s a progressive monarch in a progressive country that’s known for its focus on sustainable living and social advancement – commitments shared by the American Swedish Institute and Gustavus Adolphus College. 

The royal visit will include a flurry of activity and ceremonial fanfare. One of many sesquicentennial events on the Gustavus campus will be the dedication of an altar cloth, crafted by the current king’s great-grandfather. The royal couple will attend the blessing and rededication of the altar cloth, a treasured piece of history at Gustavus Adolphus – this on the heels of another tradition-rich event of a more scientific nature.

On Tuesday and continuing today, Gustavus is hosting Nobel Conference 48, summoning the best scientific minds to the campus for an examination of the earth’s oceans. Gustavus’ annual Nobel Conference was the first ongoing conference in the United States officially authorized by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm.

Sustainability, diversity, outreach

Nelson Cultural Center dedication events will take place at ASI, which is in the Phillips West neighborhood, and is known for both its cultural and economic diversity. Their Majesties will learn about ASI ’s community outreach, commitment to sustainability, and its arts and cultural programs. One such program enabled Scandinavian city officials to visit Minneapolis for a perspective on the Somali immigrant experience here. Another brings together Swedish-American elders and students to share family immigration stories. Yet another helps local students learn to be better writers by diving into a Pippi Longstocking tale.

The royal weekend will be abuzz with environmental causes and cultural concerns – alongside courtly pageantry and Swedish traditions. The itinerary includes a bit of pomp and circumstance, along with a generous slice of modern life.

One hundred fifty years after the founding of Gustavus Adolphus College and 83 years after the founding of ASI, our collaborative partnership is stronger than ever – building for tomorrow and the next generation.

On the first weekend in October, we’ll all have the chance to pause and reflect on the many layers of our cultural heritage. Our two institutions are grateful for this historic opportunity, and we look forward to welcoming the royal couple.

Bruce Karstadt is president and CEO of the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. Jack Ohle is president of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.

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