Ready to dip your toes into the water this summer?
Why not wade into Scandinavia House in NYC …
After a long COVID-19 hiatus of 15-plus months, Scandinavia House in New York City is beginning to open up their doors. This is perfect timing, as tourists are once again streaming into the city, and locals are bursting from their homes in search of cultural experiences. Visitors’ first foray into the building will begin in June with the return of the popular “Summer Jazz” series.
Programming did not, however, come to a screeching halt during the pandemic. Instead, this iconic organization was innovative in not only offering programs—both new and old—virtually, but also in expanding their audience. I especially enjoyed their film series over the last year.
Scandinavia House was created by the American Scandinavian Foundation (ASF), which was established through the generosity and insight of Danish-American industrialist Niels Poulson in 1910. Poulson with his partner, Norwegian-American Charles Eger (founder of Eger Home for seniors), ran the prestigious and financially successful Hecla Iron Works.
The purpose of ASF is to support cultural activities by funding an array of fellowships, grants, internships, and published materials. It was one of the first non-governmental organizations to promote cultural relations between countries. One of the organization’s most important contributions to New York and the United States occurred in 1913 with its little known or credited exhibit of Scandinavian modern art, the first in this country, beating the Armory Show by two months. Scandinavia House replicated the 1913 exhibit in 2011, adding a few extras, in an exhibition entitled, “Luminous Modernism: Scandinavian Art Comes to America, 1912.”
I would encourage you to check out the ASF’s publication The Scandinavian Review, which covers all aspects of life in the five Nordic countries, seen through the eyes of writers in both Scandinavia and the United States. This publication prides itself in the quality of its text and images. It features in-depth stories, giving breath to the written word and time for analysis. Both are ever so needed in these times of clipped bits of information that bombard us daily.
This organization is in its 111th year and its most recent incarnation is on Park Avenue; in a custom-built cultural center designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, which opened in 2000. The pandemic devastated so many businesses in NYC, and many are now extinct. Cultural institutions were especially hard hit. So, it is wonderful to have this New York institution not only survive but thrive during these extraordinary times.
Their jazz series will be held on three Thursdays in the Volvo Hall: June 24 with Eppis Ursin and Olli Hirvonen; July 15 with the Jolstein Gulbrandsen Trio; and July 29 with Oskar Stenmark and Alex Pryrodny.
The gift shop at Scandinavia House is also welcoming visitors on a limited basis Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. This intimate space is brimming with delights, from handcrafted jewelry to clothing designed with a Nordic sensibility, incorporating simplicity, quality, and beauty to imported Scandinavian sweets to soothe your sugar cravings. Even if you cannot stop by you can check out their products online and take advantage of their generous summer sale, with certain accessories, jewelry, and clothing discounted by 20% to 50%.
At the same time, virtual cultural offerings will continue. One highlight, extended upon popular demand, is “Conversations with a Shipwreck,” a digital exhibition, which delivers “a haunting, multimedia meditation on the Swedish warship Vasa,” which sank minutes into its first voyage in 1628. The exhibit blends photographs, poetry, audio, and video to explore “themes of memory and oblivion, technological triumph and fiasco, permanence and impermanence, mortality and time.” Check out the Scandinavian House website at scandinaviahouse.org for lectures and other programming that enhance this compelling story. These offerings will be available through Sept. 7.
This summer, other virtual programming includes a book talk on the novel Magma by Icelandic writer Thóra Hjörleifsdóttir and tours of past exhibits. And while the Heimbold Family Playing & Learning Center, traditionally overflowing with kids and their parents, has still not re-opened, you can tune in to hear the illustrators of wonderful children’s books read aloud. Virtual workshops are also scheduled. All these programs are posted on the Scandinavia House online calendar on their website, where there are continual updates.
When ASF President Edward P. Gallagher was asked how it feels to be resuming public programming, he said, “It feels GREAT to be reopening Scandinavia House and to begin resuming in-person programming. We have been deluged by requests for live concerts, lectures, family events, etc., and there is a pent-up demand, which should promise a very active fall. At the same time, we have greatly expanded our national audience, with a large offering of virtual programs during the past year, and we intend to continue offering these, often as hybrid live/virtual.”
So, wherever you are, in-person or online, why not dive in this summer? The water is—almost fine.
This article originally appeared in the July 9, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.