Like many other owners of new Ballard homes, the Nordic Museum has settled into fresh digs by embracing the spirited growth of its rapidly blossoming neighborhood.
Within a year of the museum’s gleaming $52.3 million building opening, its prominence rose sharply when it was codified as the National Nordic Museum in federal law in March. This escalation arrived so dramatically that even museum leaders underestimated how well things might go.
Instead of the 100,000 visitors they hoped the new site would attract its first year, 182,000 people stepped between its white, fjord-modeled walls to learn about the patterns of immigration, culture and commerce that link northern Europe to America generally and the Pacific Northwest in particular.
Museum leaders deserve praise for this institutional metamorphosis that has exceeded expectations while building an ambitious future plan predicated on sustainability.
The loss of the museum’s former home in the long-dormant Daniel Webster School made this need for permanence palpable to the museum’s board and staff. The school building is being recommissioned by Seattle Public Schools to accommodate population growth, in yet another signifier of the city’s rapid change.
Even without money attached, the federal designation helps bolster the museum’s credibility when negotiating to host traveling artifacts and exhibitions from national museums in other countries. In this, the Nordic Museum followed the path of another successful Seattle institution, the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, which achieved federal recognition in 2013.
Also to Nordic Museum leaders’ credit, they have expanded its mission toward inclusivity through events such as an examination of families that have blended Nordic and Native American cultures.
Nearly two decades ago, the Nordic Museum’s board took a gamble when it passed up a proposed South Lake Union site for a new building so it could remain in then-quiet Ballard. The hope was that a culturally significant institution could grow from the same neighborhood that northern European fishermen, boatbuilders and families had flocked to for a century. Boomtown Seattle’s reverberations have now made its new site “the intersection of history and hipsters,” as museum CEO Eric Nelson said, a fortuitous turn of events.
Friday, the museum’s proximity to Ballard’s long-running Syttende Mai celebration of Norwegian Constitution Day will demonstrate again how prescient the museum’s plans have turned out to be.