The new 57,000-square-foot Nordic Museum is the only museum devoted to the culture, history, and shared values of the five Nordic countries: Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland and their impact on the U.S. The experiences at the Nordic Museum offer a visitor journey through Time, Place, and Culture. The stories told within the core exhibitions are rooted in the history of the Nordic region and extend to Nordic American communities across the United States and, specifically, the Pacific Northwest. What unfolds is both an immigrant story and a contemporary story of cross-cultural connections. The new museum is responsive to its core constituents, key stakeholders, key volunteers (who created the soul of the original institution) while also expanding the audience capacity for a much larger range of local, national and international visitors.
To provide a new lens on the immigration experience, the museum focuses equally on the countries of origin, the experience of immigrants, and the impact of those immigrants on American society, culture and politics. In doing so, the exhibits create a foundation and platform for ongoing dialogue and exchange with the Nordic countries.
To achieve the mission to tell the “whole” Nordic Story, not limited to the Nordic American immigrant experience, we looked to historical and cultural inspiration that included: Sense of Place, Cross-cultural Connections, Lagom: “Not too much, not too little,” and Journeys and Sagas. In developing the museum’s interpretive framework, we leveraged universal messages and themes to serve as backdrops to specific objects and stories.
In order to convey “shared Nordic values” that the client wanted expressed within the exhibition, we worked through this conceptually and developed exhibit motifs in the script and media to communicate these concepts clearly and concretely. For a deeper exploration of these ideas, an entire gallery has been dedicated to how they are reflected in contemporary issues, arts, culture, and daily life.
The Museum experience describes the Nordic American immigration story in a way that makes it relevant – and vital – to broader audiences; not just the Nordic American community. The museum’s existing artifact collections, stories, and images which had previously been organized only by country are now displayed in a collective aggregation of shared immigrant experiences and/or themes. The configuration and interpretive structure retain the distinctiveness of the Nordic American immigrant narrative, but examines a common story of the immigration experience.
On a local level, the Nordic Museum, through its new exhibitions and expanded programs, has re-invigorated its core constituencies and long-time members while providing a venue for a much broader audience. As hoped, the museum has become a cross-cultural bridge, bringing to a wider audience the importance of key values such as “openness, trust, respect for nature, equality, tolerance” while providing a framework for visitors to engage in a discussion about these concepts and how they relate to contemporary issues.
It is serving as a platform for visitors to reflect, engage, and respond to the Nordic and Nordic American example in terms of what it means to discover our American identities through storytelling and artifacts as touchstones. This is part of the portrait of America – both mosaic and melting pot.
In addition, with its new location on the Ballard shipbuilding waterfront and through its exhibits which highlight maritime history and the impact of Nordic Americans on the Pacific Northwest, the Museum has provided another venue for visitors to learn about this topic.
Overall, visitors to the museum are encouraged to explore and reflect upon where we come from, what our sense of cultural identity is and then what it means to be a global citizen.