In an interesting twist, Norwegians are returning in droves to the heart of South Minneapolis, where they first settled almost 100 years ago.
Just east of the intersection of Chicago and Franklin avenues sits Norway House, a cheerful, blue brick building that opened its doors to the public in May.
Following a multi-year renovation, the 12,000-square-foot building at 913 E. Franklin Ave. is now home to the administrative offices of Norway House. The building also houses a Norwegian Trade and Development office, Concordia Language Villages, East African Housing Services, meeting space available for public rental and a Norwegian pre-school program.
Just inside the entrance, Ingebretson’s Also Café serves up fresh cardamom buns and kransekake warm from the oven. Norwegian specialties and gifts are also available for purchase at their stylish on-site gift shop.
Because art is inherently woven into Norwegian culture, Norway House has committed two large first floor rooms to their “galleri.” The works of textile artist Lisa Skjak and painter Anne Langsholt Apaydinli are currently on view, in an exhibit called Norwegian Threads.
Norway House has had an operating board for more than 10 years, and that board consists of visionary thinkers. Their goal is to establish a National Norwegian Center on the block that Norway House now shares with the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church (also called Mindekirken), which was built in 1929 by Norwegian American settlers.
In the next phase of construction, Norway House plans to remove two homes on the block and relocate another. The laundromat on the southwest corner will eventually be purchased and demolished as well.
Within two to three years, the vision is to create an event center that can accommodate up to 350 people, along with ample off-street parking and a public plaza. Whether the subject is art, music, business, design, science or current affairs, the expanded space will make it possible to gather and celebrate all things Norwegian.
Norway is a small country in Scandinavia but, disproportionate to its size, it has historically been a big player in the arena of peace-making.
Now in its sixth year, the Minnesota Peace Initiative (MPI) is the creation of Norway House member Janet Dolan. In 2008, she won a “Going Viking” award from Norway House, something given each year to persons active in the community and of Norwegian descent.
Dolan, a retired CEO and former trial lawyer, had a son serving in the military in Iraq at the time.
“More than anything, peace was on my mind,” she said.
She and husband William Moore contributed the seed money needed to launch MPI. Dolan and Moore believe that peace is not a spectator sport, and were committed to MPI from the beginning — as a way to help citizens learn and grow as peacemakers.
“Twice a year, we hold a panel discussion on a topic that’s cutting-edge current. It’s always free and open to the public, and our planning committee chooses panelists who are subject matter experts,” Dolan said.
MPI held its fall event on Nov. 3 at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Center. The topic was “Europe in Motion: the Refugee Crisis.” Dolan introduced the four panelists and reflected that, “there are more people in motion globally right now than there have been at any other time in history.”
A refugee is a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, is outside his/her country of origin. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that at the end of last year, there were nearly 60 million people on the move worldwide.
The top five countries with people fleeing their homelands are Syria, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Albania and Iraq.
Daniel Wordsworth, president of the Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee, said the situation in Syria is especially dire.
“Of their roughly 22 million people, more than half have lost their homes in the four and a half years of civil war there,” he said. “The implication is that a refugee is fleeing for his or her life. The international community world-wide must find a way to respond to this.”
A vital characteristic of Nordic culture is a mix of endeavor and a thirst for adventure. As Norway House moves into its next phase of growth and development, watch for increased activity inside and outside its little blue building.
At a glance: Norway House
Where: 913 E. Franklin Ave.
Upcoming event: Community members are invited to participate in the next exhibit, Gingerbread Wonderland, which will become an annual holiday event. This large scale re-creation of the Twin Cities in gingerbread will be on display from Nov. 24–Jan. 15. All community bakers are invited to participate. Contact Norway House at norwayhouse.org to learn more gingerbread building specs and drop-off times.