American Swedish Institute celebrates its Grand Opening this weekend

The American Swedish Institute's new Nelson Cultural Center
The American Swedish Institute's new Nelson Cultural Center

On Saturday, the American Swedish Institute (ASI) will host a daylong celebration to mark the opening of its newly constructed Carl and Leslie Nelson Cultural Center.

Festivities will include international music and dance performances, the debut of an exhibit by famed textile artist Helena Hernmarck, and appearances by Swedish Ambassador to the United States H.E. Jonas Hafström and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

In addition to Swedish glassblowing, wood carving, and other craft demonstrations, ASI will provide family-friendly activities, including an inflatable jumping castle, photo booth, and face painting. Food will be offered by the new café, FIKA, as well as the korvkiosk (hot-dog stand) and other food vendors.

The largest scale construction effort in the American Swedish Institute's 83-year history, the new building measures 34,000 square feet and houses a climate-controlled gallery, museum shop, and FIKA. It can also accommodate a variety of events in its public and private meeting areas, which include a conference room, craft workshop, Gustavus Adolphus College office suite, event center (capacity of 300), and outdoor courtyard.

While the Nelson Cultural Center pays homage to the past, it also takes a definitive step toward the future. Two stories of windows create a bright and airy interior, while keeping the Turnblad Mansion in nearly constant view. And the modern exterior borrows from several of the mansion's distinguishing characteristics, mimicking its angled turrets and using the same dark slate as the original rooftop.

"It's a way to balance the tradition and history of the mansion with the contemporary feel of the cultural center," says Bruce Karstadt, President and CEO.

Although the ground-breaking ceremony was held in April of last year, HGA Architects and Engineers (Minneapolis) was hired in 2008, and traveled to Sweden to prepare for the project. 

"We felt the new design needed to be rooted in contemporary Nordic design," Karstadt explains. "Given that so many people in our longstanding audience had been to Sweden, we wanted them to feel like they'd entered a bit of Nordic territory when they entered the building."

These influences are apparent in the new structure's clean lines, natural materials, and abundant daylight. But they're also present in less obvious ways. 

On track to secure a LEED Gold rating from the United States Green Building Council, the center features a green roof covered by sedum plants, and a complex heating and cooling system of 96 geothermal wells which stretch 250 feet below the surface. "We're willing to invest in it because it's the right thing to do," Karstadt says. "It's emblematic of our values as Minnesotans -- as well as the values of Sweden."

As part of the sustainability initiative, ASI is encouraging visitors to bike or use public transportation, and also setting aside reserved parking spots for high efficiency vehicles. "We want to orient all of our activities -- and all of our thinking -- around being green and caring for the environment." 

While the addition expands and updates the campus, Karstadt believes it will be more than just a physical transformation. "It's really about helping us serve the community better, and we hope it will broaden our ability to reach more people."

Although the American Swedish Institute will present a new face to the world, many things will remain the same. ASI will continue to offer tours, exhibits, events, and classes in an effort to connect Minnesotans with Nordic culture -- both past and present -- and create ties with other immigrant communities.

"It should be a welcoming front door," says Karstadt. "And a space that allows us to bring all people together to celebrate heritage."


Nelson Cultural Center Grand Öpening
Saturday, June 30 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

2600 Park Ave., Minneapolis; 612.871.4907

Turnblad Mansion remains the heart of the American Swedish Institute
Turnblad Mansion remains the heart of the American Swedish Institute
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American Swedish Institute

2600 Park Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55407


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