The Ballard Talisman

Nordic Museum opens in new location

Ana Marbett and Claire Moriarty, News Editor and Opinions Editor

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The new 57,000-sq.ft Nordic museum on Market St. opened on May 5. The museum includes permanent exhibits with Scandinavian artifacts as well as interactive surveys for visitors to take part in. (Ana Marbett)

The Nordic Museum opened at its new location on NW Market St. on May 5. The museum was located at NW 68th St. and 30th Ave. from 1980 until 2018.

The museum, formerly the Nordic Heritage Museum, had leased the Webster Elementary School building from the district until residential growth in Ballard forced Seattle Public Schools to reclaim it as a school site. The move had been planned for several years and places the museum in a more advantageous location than the quiet residential street it previously occupied.

Eric Nelson, the Nordic Museum’s executive director, said the new location is ideal. “We’ve got the working waterfront, which is very Scandinavian,” Nelson said. “And we’ve got Market St. and Ballard Ave. which is very up and coming so we’re kind of wedged in a very nice place between history and heritage in this vibrant neighborhood.”

There are nine permanent galleries at the museum, each of which exhibits a different aspect of Nordic history. In the temporary space, they host various cultural exhibitions, the latest of which displays the work of contemporary Nordic artists.

“Museums really are about telling stories with things—objects, photographs, documents and items,” Nelson said. “We’ve developed really strong relationships with the national museums in Scandinavia and Iceland and they’ve lent us over 100 objects. Some of them are 7, 8,000-years-old. Some look at the Viking Age, some look at the Middle Ages and then we have some objects that tell a much more contemporary story about what Scandinavia’s like today.”

The museum’s name used to contain the word “heritage,” but after the move they chose to omit it. “We wanted to make sure everyone’s invited to come to the museum and celebrate Nordic culture and arts in all of its different aspects from popular culture to folk culture to high culture,” Nelson said. “We want to break down these barriers and make sure everyone understands that this is a community resource and a cultural resource.”

The core theme of the old museum was immigration, and in the new building that theme remains very central to the exhibits and activities, including a contemporary take on the issue.

“We’ve kept the core story about immigration that’s a universally important story here in the United States, though we’ve expanded beyond what it was in the old facility,” Nelson said.
One of the most striking things about the new building was the interactive survey available to visitors. These surveys, taken on large touch-screens, focus on topics ranging from social justice to environmentalism.

The surveys reflect the Nordic perspective and the results are projected onto the wall of the dimly lit gallery so that participants can see how Nordic cultural trends intersect with those of our own society.

“It’s a much more comprehensive story about Nordic culture as well as integration and the Nordic region today,” Nelson said.

One of the ways in which Ballard honors its Scandinavian heritage is with the annual Syttende Mai (Seventeenth of May) parade. Syttende Mai is a Norwegian public holiday that commemorates the signing of the Norwegian constitution in 1814 in order to avoid being ceded to Sweden.

Eric Nelson, executive director of the museum, walks in the Syttende Mai parade on Market St. Other participants in the parade included Swanson’s Nursery, the Norwegian Ladies Chorus, and the Ballard marching band. (Claire Moriarty)

“Ballard has been the hub of the Scandinavian community in Seattle for over 100 years,” Nelson said. “We’re celebrating the 129th anniversary of the Syttende Mai parade so it’s been a strong point for this community for a very long time.”

Many organizations and groups participated in the parade including the Nordic Museum, Viking Robotics and marching band. Irene Patten of the Norwegian Ladies Chorus walks in the parade every year in recognition of her ancestry.

“It’s a long history of Scandinavian heritage here,” Patten said. “It was probably in the late 20s and early 30s that a lot of our ancestors came. My dad was one of them, from Norway.”
Both the Nordic Museum and the 17th of May parade commemorate the rich cultural history of the Ballard neighborhood even as more time elapses.

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Nordic Museum opens in new location