Norwegians have been weaving strong threads into Minneapolis culture, politics and business for more than a century. But, somehow, they’ve never had a central gathering place.
That’s about to change with Norway House, a $10 million development that will see an education center and a new conference and event center rise up next to the Mindekirke, the 84-year-old Lutheran church off E. Franklin Avenue.
“If you think of the Swedish Institute, we’re trying to do that for Norwegians,” said David Hakensen, Norway House board member.
The project was first proposed in 2004 by Royal Norwegian Consul Thor Johansen as the Minneapolis consulate was being closed. In that context, Hakensen said, the idea was a “challenge to the community” to keep celebrating its ties to Norway and to focus on the achievements of Norwegians in the United States and Minneapolis in particular.
Since then, Norway House has been an organization without a home. But it took its first major step toward a bricks-and-mortar reality in May with the purchase of the Wings Financial building at 913 E. Franklin Av. Norway House now has an office in that building, which the credit union will vacate next year.
That building will become the Norway House Education Center, while a new, 15,000-square-foot building adjacent to the Mindekirken and the Education Center will serve as the Conference and Event Center, with a banquet hall, cafe, gift shop, classroom and meeting room and exhibit and performance space.
Norway House, as an organization, currently sponsors the Edvard Grieg Society, highlighting the music of the Norwegian composer; a peace initiative featuring speakers who focus on peacemaking, and the Midtsommer Celebration, a family-and-friends event that also commemorates accomplishments of notable Norwegian-Americans.
Norway House is distinct from the Sons of Norway, an international, membership organization founded in Minneapolis in 1895, which today is an insurance company with some emphasis on heritage preservation. Indeed, Hakensen acknowledged that Norwegians in Minneapolis have formed many cultural and social organizations over the years, but that they tended to grow independently.
“They were knitted together, but not around a central place,” he said. “That was one of the things people have come to realize we really needed to have — a central gathering spot.”
Norway House will be located in a part of Minneapolis once dominated by Norwegian immigrants, but where East Africans are becoming the primary ethnic group. In that, he said, it will honor the neighborhood’s longtime role as a home to newcomers.