Innovation Barn inspires with pop-up

Women in canoe holding pink frame.

Photo courtesy of Mona Anita K. Olsen
Visitors to Lista’s American Festival remember to dream as they visit Innovation Barn at 58N6E’s pop-up booth.

Jennifer Blumenfeld
Cornell University

For the past 11 years in Lista, Norway, The American Festival has been a highlight of people’s summers. Every June, vendors and performers from all over the country come to exhibit their American pride through interpretive food stands, performances, activities, and impersonations while embracing Norwegian festival culture. While the festival traditionally is home to classic hamburgers and hot dogs, Elvis Presley, Coca Cola, and Mickey Mouse, this summer an organization called Innovation Barn at 58N6E was able to take a slightly different route, promoting the American Dream framework.

“Everyone has a dream in progress,” said Mona Anita K. Olsen, founder of Innovation Barn at 58N6E, an organization that encourages people to “think outside the barrel.”

Innovation Barn at 58N6E (which happens to be the geographic coordinates of Borhaug, Norway) is the culmination of many years of ideation by Olsen after her Fulbright grantee work at the University of Stavanger. Olsen, currently an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Cornell University and an avid supporter of entrepreneurship in education and community development, continues to pave the path forward on her own “dream in progress” in Norway each year.

Innovation Barn at 58N6E was offered an opportunity to run a booth at the festival just one week prior to exhibiting. With just a few days to plan and execute an entire booth, Olsen’s ideas starting flowing. Her family has been in Norway since 1931 and has deep roots to Norway as well as many other international locations. Through her travels, education, and experiences, Olsen has learned to not just dream but dream big.

She decided to put together a Dream in Progress display at The American Festival. Here people could write letters to themselves outlining their dreams or aspirations, and the letters would be sent to them one year later.

A group of people at the festival.

Photo courtesy of Mona Anita K. Olsen

To reinforce the theme of entrepreneurship, the booth took on a bootstrapped approach. The supplies were taken from a barn, massive canoes were donated (promoting tourism through Farsund 365), and the vast majority of volunteers at the booth were international. This pop-up booth reminded people to dream. In just one week, over 350 dream kits were created by hand and distributed to the community with a call to action to visit directions on the website at www.innovationbarn.no.

While this festival is a great time for attendees to celebrate American food, culture, and history, there are even bigger lessons for economic development and global entrepreneurship, specifically on how to build more opportunities for U.S./Norway relations. One of the main takeaways is the importance of partnership strategies and community connections.
The festival thrives on strategic partners and both formal and informal networks. Olsen presented the findings from this experience at the North Atlantic Forum in Bø, Telemark, in September.

The festival also reinforces the importance of internationalization in the local communities and the delicate balance between embracing local but thinking global. There are tremendous opportunities in the rural areas of Norway to create experiences that can appeal to festival attendees, and the festival model allows for a natural “pop-up” approach—or you could say incubation approach—to test out new concepts. Finally, the approach highlighted the realization that entrepreneurship is borderless. This festival gives people a great opportunity to bring new ideas together and present and execute them on a reasonable scale.

Beyond Olsen’s setup of the Dream in Progress booth, the entire festival is a dream in progress: not only the actual festival itself but also the experience for all the vendors and performers and visitors, too. It is a congested hub of entrepreneurship and culture that enables everyone to learn from each other and launch new ideas. Everyone can think outside the barrel.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 6, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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