Nordic Center Is A Place to Create, Learn, & Explore - Destination Duluth (2024)

by Sheryl Jensen

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The Nordic Center says in their mission statement that they exist “To share Nordic culture with the greater community through social, educational, and arts programs.”

They also note that their vision is “To be a warm and inclusive place for community engagement in traditional, contemporary, and emerging Nordic culture and knowledge.”

Making their goals even more universal, they state, “We are on a mission to make the world a more culturally aware and tolerant place.”

Cultural Programs For All

The Nordic Center is a non-profit cultural organization formed in 2011 and located in downtown Duluth at 23 N. Lake Avenue, in a building formerly owned by the Sons of Norway.

Sharing Nordic culture with their programming. they invite a variety of local, regional, national, and global artists from a variety of disciplines to share their talents with people from all cultures and backgrounds.

They offer book clubs, language lessons, concerts, and storytelling, The Nordic Center’s quality arts and cultural programming is for all ages, with many opportunities for families from the very young to those who are young at heart.

Enriching Exhibits

Rotating exhibit space offers artists and craftspeople a wonderful space to share their work. Past exhibits have included prints, fibers, paintings, sculptures, artifacts, and other media.

One past exhibit, “Leading With Our Hearts,” included traditional and contemporary floral and geometric designs from Ojibwe, Nordic, and Sami textile traditions, Ojibwe floral beadwork and regalia from Fond Du La Reservation members, and Swedish-Norwegian-inspired paintings of folk dress motifs, embroideries, and tapestries.

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Their current exhibit, “Hand of Huldra” features jewelry artist and goldsmith Liz Bucheit and her collection of Norwegian-inspired filigree jewelry. Her works are Inspired by the Scandinavian myth of the forest Huldra, a beautiful woman with a cow tail who would charm humans into living life forever inside a magic mountain.

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“For every art exhibition, we aim to consider children's perspectives and participation. We do that by offering an event called SunFUNday for kiddos and their parents/caretakers to learn about the current exhibition and try their hand at creating something based on that theme,” said Jacklyn Janeksela, Nordic Center Gallery assistant,who also does outreach for the Center.

For “Hand of the Huldra,” on International Women's Day, the Nordic Center offered a “Nordic Crowns & Beyond” workshopwhere participants were able to make their own unique crowns.

Pepperkakebyen: A Gingerbread Delight

Pepperkakebyen (Pepper -spiced, kake -cake, byen -town/village) celebrated its 12th year this past year of helping people build gingerbread houses. The event has become a very popular yearly tradition for the Center as a way to celebrate the Nordic tradition of gingerbread baking and house making.

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An annual class teaches how to make gingerbread houses. Photo submitted.

This is based on the annual tradition in Bergen, Norway, where children and adults contribute to the making of a miniature version of their city, with houses, trains, cars, and ships made from real gingerbread.

Whether created by children or by skilled craftspeople or even architects, this charming holiday activity at the Nordic Center includes a gingerbread workshop hosted by “Patrick the Gingerbread Man” where participants learn tips and tricks on how to build and decorate their houses.

People are able to view the houses beginning on the night of the Christmas City of the North parade and after in the Pepperkakebyen window display.

Duluth-stämman: A Celebration of Nordic Folk Music and Dance

The Nisswa-stämman Scandinavian Festival was a popular summer event in Nisswa, Minnesota for over twenty years. The Festival relocated to Duluth in 2023, and the Nordic Center is excited to bring it back this summer on June 7 and 8 at Chester Bowl and UMD.

The two-day event offers dances, workshops, jam circles, performances, youth programming. and music from regional and international performers. Clifton Nesseth, the Nordic Center’s Arts and Cultural Events Coordinator, is instrumental in the planning and organization of Duluth-stämman.

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Nisswa-stämman Scandinavian Festival gathered at the Duluth Folk School. Photo submitted.

“Last summer, we had 300 participants and hope for more this year. We are excited to share this event with a gathering celebrating Nordic traditions. We want to have more youth engagement with our programming. We will also have food trucks for people to enjoy onsite. With our music and our workshops and exhibits, this will be one of the highlights of the summer,”he said.

Open Doors for Everyone

The Nordic Center also strives to go beyond only Nordic cultural opportunities, opening its doors and opportunities for many cross-cultural collaborations.

Carol Coburn, the co-president of the Nordic Center Board, who brings her theater, costume and weaving background into her work with the Nordic Center, said, “We’re excited to work with a variety of other organizations to bring in exhibits, workshops and more, and are always interested in collaborating with other cultural groups.”

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Group sessions bring people from all cultures together. Photo submitted.

“We provide a place where people from many cultures can come together to learn from each other. We are a place for people to be entertained and to learn,” said Karen Keenan, the other co-chair, who teaches courses in traditional Swedish Hair Jewelry.

Dr. Paula Gudmundson, the Department Head and an Associate Professor in the UMD Music Department, is also a past Board Member of the Nordic Center and is now on their Advisory Council, working on long-term planning

She said, ”I have a special interest in bringing musicians together. It has been wonderful to see people become engaged in their culture through music and dance and making connections with others as well.”

“We wantpeople to know we exist, that we're a safe, warm place to create art and share space with each other overfika and pulla (coffee and Finnish cardamom bread). We are here for everyone!”added Janeksela.

For more information on membership, programming, and events, visit their website at or their Facebook page.

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