The new Nordic Museum on Market St. is humming with activity as workers race to complete the last installations and finishing work before opening day on May 5th.
“We’ll be ready,” CEO Eric Nelson reassured the group of media gathered for an inside tour.
Workers darted between museum members who also gathered for an advance look at the 57,000 square-foot, $45 million facility on Market St.
We were standing in Fjord Hall, which looks a bit like a 3-story crevasse that winds its way down the length of the museum. High above, Faroese artist Tróndur Patursson was installing Migration, a beautiful flock of glass birds suspended on cables from the ceiling (above).
Nelson began the tour in the auditorium, which is decked out in Douglas fir and Western hemlock with seating for 374 people. The far wall opens to reveal a large HD projection screen. On the opposite side, windows slide open to an outdoor patio. It’s clear the auditorium will become Ballard’s most prized venue, a space for musical acts, fundraisers and weddings.
As we walked back into Fjord Hall, we stood at the base of a giant map of Nordic countries.
Then after climbing the stairs, we emerged into the galleries.
Fjord Hall divides the two main galleries, the northern side focuses on the Nordic Region (above) and the southern side tells the story of Nordic America.
Bridges, which are metaphors for immigration and migration, connect the two sides.
“Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve had waves of immigrants that continue to come,” explained Nelson to our group. “Most recently, we’ve had a lot of immigrants coming to work in the tech sector. Microsoft has bought Skype and Minecraft, and a number of other tech companies from Scandinavia, and with that has brought another wave of Nordic immigration.”
One of our favorite stops on the tour was this viewing area, a large screen with directional sound showing sweeping scenes of Scandinavian nature.
At the end of Fjord Hall, visitors exit to an outdoor grassy area featuring some familiar exhibits from the old Nordic Heritage Museum: the Nordic Spirit boat and the Finnish sauna.
Other than a few familiar exhibits, the new museum looks nothing like the old. Praised by Architectural Digest, the modern Mithun-designed building — with help from Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa — is a far cry from the red brick building on NW 68th St.
“We’ve gone through a slow period of professionalization during our time in the old museum getting ready for this,” Nelson said. “So we can bring along all the great things about the old museum, but also open our doors and appeal to a much broader audience.”
Nelson joked when he first visited the old museum ten years ago, the cab driver couldn’t find the building. “We’re in a far more visible spot next to the Locks right on Market St.” he said.
As the tour neared the end, we asked Nelson why it was important the museum is part of Ballard.
“It provides a cultural anchor here in Ballard,” he said. “It cements the fact that this is the historic Nordic neighborhood of Seattle, and it gives us a lasting tribute to the people who built Ballard, continue to be part of the working waterfront and the community as a whole.”
At the end of the tour, guests are funneled into the museum store (“We learned that from Disney,” jokes Nelson), which is next door to Freya Cafe along Market St.
Freya is slated to open on May 8th.
Beginning next week, the museum kicks off an aggressive schedule of events. Local leaders will gather on on Tuesday for a preview reception. The museum will host the Nordic Innovation Conference on Thursday. That same night, the Danish Crown Princess and ambassador will announce its International Cultural Initiative. On Friday, there’s a cultural community gathering followed by a grand opening gala dinner.
Then the museum opens its doors on Saturday, May 5th with a ribbon cutting ceremony at noon. All are invited to the corner of Market and 28th for the outdoor event featuring remarks by the President of Iceland and the Crown Princess of Denmark, among others. That night, a sold-out concert in the auditorium will feature Nordic and Nordic-inspired groups including Chelsea Wolfe.
If you’d like to visit the museum galleries on opening day and Sunday, you’re asked to reserve tickets in advance. At last check, Saturday is sold out but tickets are available on Sunday.
You may want to reserve some extra time when visiting on opening day. The museum has 77 parking spots in the rear, but otherwise you’ll be fending for yourself with on-street parking.