What It’s Like to Visit the American Swedish Institute During COVID-19

New rules, same great museum

After a six-month closure due to COVID-19, the American Swedish Institute finally reopened to the public on Friday, September 11.

Things look a little different now, of course: Museum hours are shorter (Thursday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), everyone is wearing masks, and desk-bound staff members answer questions from behind Plexiglass shields. Hand sanitizer is available on every floor and there are clear directives on which way to walk to avoid running into other guests. The bathrooms are open but the coat room is closed. Visitors must reserve and pay for admission before arrival and are expected to practice social distancing inside the museum, with only one group allowed in each gallery, room, elevator, etc. at a time.

If you want to eat at Fika Café (and who doesn’t?), the full lunch menu and a host of baked goods are available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday to Sunday. (Yes, the cardamom buns are still ridiculously delicious.) Indoor seating is limited, but there are tables and benches in the courtyard if you wish to dine outside. Reservations are recommended; call 612-524-5108.

We attended the members opening on Thursday, September 10 and were very impressed with how well ASI is handling the coronavirus weirdness. Similar to recent experiences visiting Mia and the Walker Art Center, the limited capacity was a dream from a museum-goer’s POV. You can move slowly enough to notice things you’d otherwise miss, like the ornate thermostats in the Turnblad Mansion or the amazing view of downtown Minneapolis from the elevator skywalk on the mansion’s third floor.

For anyone who missed it before COVID-19 wrecked 2020, ASI has extended its run of “extra/ordinary: The American Swedish Institute. At Play.” through January 24, 2021. The show spotlights 29 cultural objects from the ASI collection and was inspired by the picture book A to Zäåö: Playing with History at the American Swedish Institute, featuring watercolor paintings and ink illustrations by the Minnesota mother-son art team of Tara Sweeney and Nate Christopherson. Surprises abound — including a wooden spoon installation in the Turnblad kitchen, an inflatable dala horse in the courtyard, and a bright blue ball pit in the old ballroom. (Sorry, no swimming allowed.)

Also essential viewing: The phenomenal “We Who Believe in Freedom” quilt exhibition in the Osher Gallery. Curated by Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi and organized by the Women of Color Quilters Network and the Textile Center, it’s part of We Are the Story, an ambitious, multi-site initiative featuring dozens of art quilts depicting issues of racism, social justice, and Black empowerment. (Pictured here: “Power In Numbers,” an acrylic and hand-pulled silk screen on rusted fabric by Sharon Kerry-Harlan of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.)

“We Who Believe in Freedom” will be on display through November 1, but all seven We Are the Story shows will live virtually at textilecentermn.org and wcqn.org.

American Swedish Institute
2600 Park Ave., Minneapolis, MN; 612-871-4907.