A Visit to Scandinavia House in NYC
On Friday I had the pleasure of visiting Scandinavia House on Park Avenue in New York City.
Established in 2000, its ground floor entrance opens into restaurant Smorgås Chef and a shop stocked with a variety of products from chocolate and candy to clothes and books, showcasing Nordic brands such as Marimekko and Tretorn and icons such as Pippi and Dala horses.
A rear stairwell leads to a 168 seat Victor Borge Concert Hall donated by the beloved pianist himself when the center first opened, while upper levels house the offices of parent organization the American-Scandinavian Foundation (ASF), an additional multi-purpose hall, educational center and gallery space with three chambers and a small screening room.
Scandinavia House hosts exhibitions, film screenings, lectures and educational programming. It’s akin to a grown up version of the SCC – as a young center it is encouraging to see a similar organization in operation for 14 years. Their programming combines what we are doing already (exhibitions, concerts, film screenings) with the broader vision we see in our future (classes, Nordic store and fully operational eatery).
I also see a more immediate opportunity to work in tandem. My goal with this visit was first to learn more about the center and second to establish contact for potential shared cultural programming with both New York and Greater Boston audiences. This connection will allow us to stay better informed of artists and presenters visiting the region, likewise alerting the same of additional venues and audiences with whom they may be interested in connecting.
My meeting was with Kyle Reinhart, Manager of Cultural and Educational Programs and Kati Laakso, Cultural Attaché for the Finnish Consulate. I met Kati when she was invited by Finlandia Foundation Boston to give a presentation in the Nordic Hall about the cultural activities of the Finnish Consulate. Kati regularly works directly with Kyle, and made the introduction that led to today’s meeting.
Kyle started our meeting with a brief history of SH. Like the SCC, its parent organization has over 100 years of history and was started by a small group of expats with a goal of preserving connection to their native countries through cultural and educational exchange.
Their staff is small but mighty, carrying off a substantial amount of programming with limited resources. I know a thing or two about this…
Kyle shared that like many cultural institutions, ours among them, Scandinavia House encounters challenges trying to engage younger audiences, though they seem to have won the affection of the very young; Scandinavia House’s children’s programming was recently voted one of the best in the city. They are targeting the 20s-30s set with Nordic DJ nights like many museums have adopted in recent years.
As we discussed our organizations, key differences emerged as well.
In New York each Nordic consulate employs a cultural attaché, and Kati shared that they work actively together, meeting monthly to exchange ideas. The city is fortunate in this regard, as its Boston counterparts do not share this same sturdy infrastructure.
SH focuses on contemporary programming while we incorporate traditional programming as well.
They have a slightly nicer view from their conference room.
I look forward to staying in touch with Kyle and Kati and seeing what may come from an ongoing exchange.
Before the meeting, I visited the gallery to see the current exhibition, one of three SH does each year: “Darkness & Light: Contemporary Nordic Photography.”
I’m interested in learning more about Danish artist Joakim Eskildsen’s project “American Realities,” depicting poverty through intimate portraits of ordinary people living in it.
I was also drawn to a series of photos by Swedish artist JH Engstrom, each provoking a sense of a narrative but like a handful of puzzle pieces, leaving it to the viewer to string a story together.
My favorite piece was by Finnish artist Ulla Jokisalo who embroiders onto her photos layering textural as well as thematic interest.
Their next exhibition focuses on the Sámi people, and sounds fascinating.
My thanks to Kyle for our meeting and to Kati for making the connection.