S.9: E.8: Enthralled by Museums

Learning for Life @ Gustavus host Greg Kaster interviews Gustavus alum and American Swedish Institute experience director Ingrid Nyholm-Lange.
Posted on May 25th, 2021 by

Museum professional Ingrid Nyholm-Lange ’91 discusses her upbringing in Chicago and Swedish roots, her education at Gustavus (history and Scandinavian Studies) and Eastern Illinois University (historical administration), and her work in a variety of museum settings, including her current role as the director of experience at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.

Season 9, Episode 8: Enthralled by Museums

Greg Kaster:

Hello and welcome to Learning for Life at Gustavus, the podcast about people teaching and learning at Gustavus Adolphus College, and the myriad ways that Gustavus liberal arts education provides a lasting foundation for lives of fulfillment and purpose. I’m your host, Greg Kaster, a faculty member in the department of history.

“In college, I loved history, but I didn’t like the dates,” observed my guest today for a newspaper profile in 2010. “I think, I naturally gravitated toward museums. Even when I was little, I remember going to museums and being enthralled.” Ingrid Nyholm-Lange continues to be enthralled by museums and in fact has made her career, and mark in the museum field. A 1991 graduate of Gustavus with majors in history and Scandinavian studies, Ingrid went on to earn a master’s degree in historical administration from Eastern Illinois University.

In 1997, after stints at the Chicago Historical Society and the city’s Swedish American Museum center, she worked in education at the Minnesota Children’s Museum. In 2007, she began her association with the American Swedish Institute or ASI, here in Minneapolis, rising through the ranks to her current position as director of experience. As an enthralled museum goer myself, was a historian’s interest in how they curate and present the past. I’ve been looking forward to speaking with Ingrid about her work and how she came to it, and it’s my pleasure to welcome her to the podcast. So Ingrid, it’s great to have you on.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Well, thank you very much for inviting me, this is terrific.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, my pleasure. And as we were saying before we started recording, we didn’t really know each other at the time you were at Gustavus. So we took a course, so one or more with my wife, Kate, who’s now retired. So yeah, pleasure to connect or reconnect, as the case may be.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, absolutely.

Greg Kaster:

As I was mentioning, also, before we started recording, Kate and I, live just, I don’t know, it’s a maybe 20 minute walk at the most, of the ASI. But what’s it like right now, is it’s not open, is that right?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

No, actually, we are open. ASI reopened for a second time here back on February 6. So like many museums, actually, throughout the State of Minnesota, it was about a year ago, when the governor ordered the shutdown statewide. And at that point, ASI, we were less packed up, everyone grabbed what they could and went home, and we’ve been working remotely ever since. So it’s been a little bit of a challenging year, as one can imagine in the museum field and arts and cultural field. So we had… ASI has a great staff, there’s about 29 or 30 of us working full time. Before we shut down, we had an additional of 50 people, who worked with us part time. And when we shut down, we had to make the really hard decision to furlough, all of our part time staff. Those were staff that were working at the front desk that were helping with programs and events, teaching extra classes and when everything shut down, those programs went away.

So the other challenge we had right from the get-go, is that only about half of our full time staff actually had laptops, while a lot of us still working on desktops. So there was a little bit of a scramble at the start to figure out, who had laptops, who didn’t? Did people have laptops at home that they could work on? Could we set up VPN on everyone’s computers? And that was the start of COVID for us, about a year ago.

Greg Kaster:

So yeah, I mean, just the impact on work, how people work including, obviously in your field [inaudible 00:04:12].

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, exactly. In the museum field, it’s really about working with the public and all of a sudden the public was gone. So it took us a couple of weeks to kind of, come to grips with where we were and what we were going to be able to do. But this is where the creativity and innovation comes out, especially in small to midsize museums. When we have a staff of roughly 30 full time people, it means you get to do a lot more than just your own job, if you will, by your job description. And in this case we did, we had to figure out who knew about doing virtual programs. We had never even heard of Zoom before. And it took us probably about a month of kind of, really, both touching base with our audience and our membership and trying to figure out, what is a Zoom platforms? How could we take the programs that we were currently doing at ASI, pre-COVID, move them into a virtual platform? Would it work?

Our language program moved over the first and that worked out really well. But then we also do a lot of hands on workshops, both in food and in handcraft. And we’re trying to figure out, well, how on earth is that going to work? And then youth or family programs and such. So it’s been a year of learning and innovation.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, it’s so true about innovation. I mean, it’s, I guess, the silver lining of one silver lining, if there is one of this and then it’ll be so interesting. I’m a labor historian by training, so I’m just interested in this and what my last right, how things was most prior at museum office work? Well, we will see. Now, I’m trying to imagine, was there an exhibit at the time we had those scramble and get out of there? Was-

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yes, actually, we had just opened an exhibit about three weeks before we shut down and that was an exhibit that we had not brought in. So ASI brings in quite a few international exhibitions. This was a homegrown exhibition that we had developed and fabricated in house, we were super excited about it. It was an exhibit called extraordinary and it was really about the objects, and the extraordinary stories behind them. And that was a really big bummer, we had spent over a year working on this exhibition project. We opened it up, folks were loving it. We were getting great reviews, lots of people were coming out to see it and then we shut down.

Greg Kaster:

…That is a bummer.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, it really is. So we decided to leave the exhibition in place, obviously. And then we started shifting museum exhibitions around like many other museums were doing, because we really plan almost two to three years out in advance. So and especially with exhibitions that are coming in internationally, there might be a line of museums that will get the exhibition. It might first be out on the East Coast and then come to the Midwest and then proceed out to the West Coast. So we were all started talking with one another and kind of, refiguring our calendars. We also thought the shutdown was only going to last maybe a month, or two. And 12 months later, we did have the opportunity to open up for a short while back in late September, and then the governor shut everyone down again here in November. So we’ve had two spots where we’ve been able to open and open exhibitions, and then both of those times, we were shut down.

Greg Kaster:

He was hoping it stays open. So how we go there today already listen or there’s a protocol, I assume mask wearing and [inaudible 00:08:23] certain number of people allowed in at a time.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, absolutely. So we work really tightly with the Minnesota Department of Health, making sure that we’re following all the guidelines. Nowadays, the museum is only open Thursday through Sunday, from 10 AM until 4 PM, so that’s a shortened week for us as far as, open to the public, and it’s all timed entry. So we ask the people go online and purchase their admission tickets in advance and we allow a certain number of people to enter the museum, every half hour. And so that way we’re keeping in total compliance with the state and mass are obviously mandated statewide, so that’s really important. But I have to say, the vast majority of people who’ve been coming to visit the museum since we’ve opened on February 6, have been nothing but delightful. And everyone’s really respectful about not only their own part, or their own group their width, but making sure they’re giving other people space.

Greg Kaster:

That’s great. I’m glad to know you reopen. And what about the acclaimed FIKA, which is terrific, it’s sort of a restaurant or café, it’s a-

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, we call it a café, FIKA Café, so they reopened with us on February 6. And cafes have their own capacities, but FIKA has been open and serving and they continue to do so. So quite a few people are ordering FIKA food to go, or you can purchase food and then we have socially distance tables, and chairs throughout the first floor, and second floor of our Nelson Cultural Center.

Greg Kaster:

… Wow. As I was mentioning again, before we started recording [inaudible 00:10:24] within walking distance, I didn’t know you were real open with me and I love FIKA, it’s so good. By the way, remind me what is FIKA, is FIKA mean like a coffee, or what [inaudible 00:10:34]

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, so FIKA is both a noun and a verb in Swedish, which I think is such a great word. It literally means to take a break, to sit down and have coffee, and conversation.

Greg Kaster:

Okay, yeah, it’s a great, that’s it’s a great one and it’s F I K A, right?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Correct, yes, correct.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, well, that’s good news. I mean, let’s hope it continues to be good news. So here you are a museum professional with, I don’t know, 25 plus years in the field. Let’s go back in time to where you grew up. Tell us a little bit about that.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, I’m originally from Chicago.

Greg Kaster:

Well, even me.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, not too far from Wrigley Field.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, my Gosh!

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

I grew up in Earth Force in the South Suburbs.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Oh, you did?

Greg Kaster:

Oh I did, my dad grew up in the city, though I love Chicago and I love-

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

…And that’s great, yeah, that’s where I grew up.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

And also that’s where I grew up. I have to say that I grew up in a pretty strong Swedish American community in Chicago. Like Minnesota, Chicago was one of those kind of, historically strong Swedish landing places, if you will, for Swedish immigrants. My dad came in 1956. He came, because he was a tool and die maker and there was actually a couple of Swedish tool and die firms in the Chicago land area. And they would always reach out to Sweden and get yellow tool and die makers who are interested in coming to America.

Greg Kaster:

That’s amazing.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, so he’d come to Chicago. He didn’t speak English at all and which was fine, because actually, all of the tool and die makers that worked in the tool shop, they all spoke Swedish, which was really kind of cool. A lot of them still spoke Swedish, as I was growing up and we would stop into the tool shop in the factory. And then he met my mom and my mom is first generation born in the U.S. but, all Swedish background.

Greg Kaster:

Wow. So you’re through and through. Actually interesting. My dad’s side, I’m Greek. His parents came from Greece and my mom’s side, I’m, I don’t know, all American farm girl, down in Newman, Illinois, south of Champaign Urbana, the near Tuscola. Wow, that’s interesting, now, I’m already homesick for Chicago. So where’s your dad come from in Sweden, and how old was he when he emigrated?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, so if my dad was 31 years old, so he was on the older end and he was from Stockholm, and he was the only one who came to the states. So we grew up having a really small nuclear family here in the U.S. but, there were tonnes of aunts and uncles and cousins and whatnot in Sweden and obviously they’re still there. So yeah, we grew up… I didn’t get to travel to Sweden until actually I was in college, but I did have quite a few aunts and uncles who had come to visit us when we were younger, they would come to Chicago.

Greg Kaster:

Did you grow up speaking Swedish, or you were Swedish spoken at home?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, we did. We did speak some Swedish at home. I would say like many first generation American kids. My parents would speak Swedish to us and we quite often talk English back, because we wanted to speak English, like all our friends. But it was one of those things, where we grew up understanding a lot and probably having more of that passive vocabulary, I would think, I would probably call it.

Greg Kaster:

Yes, that’s a good way to put it. I can relate by… It sounds like you have siblings too, do you have a-

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, there’s four of us.

Greg Kaster:

… Yeah, okay. I just want a younger brother, but we grew up. My dad didn’t… Only some of my cousins, who stayed in the city, who went to Greek school, I think, [crosstalk 00:14:56] speaking Greek. My dad, we moved to the suburbs and we didn’t know. But yeah, I had to pass the vocabulary mostly swear words, which [inaudible 00:15:05]. But also restaurant ordering words, which would still help me and so my dad used to joke, no matter where you are a Greek owns this [inaudible 00:15:14] whatever the cuisines.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Oh my goodness, yeah. so it’s some of the best Greek restaurants in Chicago.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, it’s really, yeah big town. And Chicago, I mean just the ethnic history and the labor history, including the Swedes, it’s so, so, so interesting [crosstalk 00:15:30] Was your mom working too?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

No, for the most part, she was a stay at home parent and kind of rode hard on the four of us, kids.

Greg Kaster:

Will you remember the quote I read at the beginning, which appeared in the Twin City Star tribute. I don’t know if they slab that call, or was it how I got this job. But anyway, you mentioned remembering going to museums as a kid and look.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

What are some of those memories?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, so you know, I really remember so many of the museums in Chicago, are on what they consider Chicago Park District property. And therefore, they would always have like, one free day a week. And I really remember my mom just being like, today, we’re going to the Adler Planetarium, and we would hop on the L and go downtown. Or we would go to the Museum of Science and Industry, or we’d go to the Field Museum, the Chicago Historical Society. And I just remember going to those places and just really loving them, and being very comfortable in these enormous institutions, and all of the interesting things that were on display. At that time, it was definitely more of this idea of cabinet of curiosities, that the interactive exhibitions per say.

And then in high school, of course, we went to Chicago public high schools. And when you’re 15, and 16, and you’re like, yeah, we’re really cool, we’re going to hop the L and go downtown. And then it was like, yeah, we’ll walk around the Art Institute, be like, we’re sophisticated 15 or 16 year old. And then, to tell you the truth, the Art Institute, art has never been one of those driving forces for me, but I always enjoyed just kind of the peace and the quiet I think, that you would find, especially at the Art Institute. So and even growing up in Chicago elementary schools, I think public schools did a really great job of, I mean, it seemed like we were always at the museum, we’d be down at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for student concerts.

So I think it was really a time in the 70s and early 80s, where you were really encouraged to get out and if you will use Chicago properties, use that kind of cultural entities within the city. And it was always good, cheap, fun and entertainment, keep us out of trouble, things like that.

Greg Kaster:

I’m sitting here with a big grin on my face, because just thinking about getting on the L. I used to take it from the South Suburbs, and really I see, the Orange school, I remember elementary school having a bus trip to one of Field Museum or the Museum of Science and History. The other thing you said which I, boy, I’ve never really been able to articulate it, you just articulated for me. You said you felt comfortable in the museums and that’s exactly how I will phrase it and how I will phrase it from now on. I feel that the second I walk in, I can’t think of a museum that I’ve entered anywhere where I haven’t felt that. And then yes, sometimes the peace and quiet to it depends not so much at the museum precisely, [crosstalk 00:19:11] called the bustle.

And of course, Chicago. I mean, so many these museums, right, we’re part of the Columbian Exposition done in the 1890s. It’s really, really awesome. I’m envious. I mean, I’m envious of your public school experience in Chicago and going to all those museums. The Artist’s too, was definitely a museum we went to a lot as a family, my dad painted [crosstalk 00:19:35]. He said, he went to school there, I never verified that. I don’t know what kind of… But anyway, when we went there often… By the way, if you’ve entered the new… I was just there a couple years ago there, sort of a new wing and the new courtyard, God, it’s was gorgeous, just pre-COVID [crosstalk 00:19:56].

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, no, I haven’t been there.

Greg Kaster:

It’s beautiful, you’ll love it.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Oh, good.

Greg Kaster:

So, I mean, I suppose, one could assume, well, you’ve got the Swedish background, you’re going to a Swedish Lutheran College. But, is that the case and what brought you to Gustavus?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, actually, that wasn’t the case to tell you the truth. So first of all, I would have to say that, I fought pretty hard for the privilege to go to college. It wasn’t assumed in our family that you would go to college. It was definitely a very trade-oriented family. One of my brothers is a tool and die maker like my dad was, the other one owns a bar in Chicago, which is also really cool. So when I, I don’t know, exactly what it was to take the trip, but I want to say, there was a representative of Gustavus, who actually came to my high school. And one way or another, if one of my teachers was like, there’s a school up in Minnesota, and it’s kind of Swedish, maybe you should go check it out, go talk to the rep.

And I went to a technical high school, I went to Lane Tech and so the vast majority of students at Lane Tech were not on a college track. I took drafting and numerous shop classes. So it wasn’t a school where, once again, students were on the track to go to college. So long story short, I met this representative from Gustavus, I started learning about the school, I thought, oh, that would actually be kind of cool and interesting. And my junior year in high school, Gustavus had put together a bus that was going from Chicago, through Northern Illinois, picking up students to come up and check out this college.

And quite truthfully, I was like, I had nothing better to do, my junior year, the free spring break, and I was like, yeah, what’s this, sure, why not? It sounds like really cool idea. And I have to say, we drove on Interstate 90, crossed over into Minnesota, because I’d never been in Minnesota before and there’s some of those beautiful river bluffs right there, and that was my first impression of Minnesota. And I thought, wow, this place is really gorgeous. And then kind of my love for Minnesota grew from there and I really enjoyed my time on the Gustavus Campus. It was also another one of those spots where I felt really comfortable.

My high school was larger than this Gustavus, at the time. So certainly wasn’t a feeling of being overwhelmed for me. If anything, a lot of my friends would give me such a hard time. This at the time, there was just one stoplight in St. Peter and within what, half a mile radius of my house growing up in Chicago, there was probably, I don’t know, seven or eight stoplights. So that’s kind of how I landed up at Gustavus.

Greg Kaster:

That’s a great story. So are you the first in your list in your immediate family to go to college?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, both sides of the ocean, I was the first one to go to college. And then my sister eventually went to college. She didn’t start college until she was probably 27 or 28. So yeah, like I said, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion in our family. So I kind of had to fight a little bit for the privilege to go.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, good for you and you went and I… My dad did not go to college, he was a hairdresser, his dad was barber at Oak Park. And then my mom, well, she went to Eastern [inaudible 00:24:06] I think she did a teaching degree there, two years and then taught for a little bit, I think, in a one-room schoolhouse. She always said that didn’t like it and sold sporting goods and met my dad and the rest was history. Yeah, so I know Gustavus takes pride and largely in the number of first generation college students that it’s had and I think still has, so that’s a nice story. Actually, you mentioned your brothers bar, when I hear Chicago bar, I kind of get home sick, there’s nothing like a Chicago bar.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, it’s his bar, is on the northwest side of Chicago, not too far from Pulaski and Irving Park. So not too far from the junction of Kennedy and Edens Expressway.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, oh, boy, makes me want to get on a plane right now. People never been in a Chicago bar, you don’t know what you’re missing. So you came to Gustavus and you wandered up majoring in history and Scandinavian studies, the double major. Did you know already that you were going to do that? I mean, did you know what you’re going to major on?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

No, not really, I think, I went to college thinking about business, or international relations and more, because of growing up the way I did, I’ll always thought about trade, like what was going to be your job? I have to say, I took macroeconomics, my very first semester in Gustavus and I was like, oh, boy, this is not where I’m going to be happy.

Greg Kaster:

In history department, we call that course, the funnel to the history major.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, and I don’t even remember who my advisor was, like my freshman year. But I remember just being almost in a panic, because I was like, well, what am I going to do, or what am I going to be? And this advisor, whoever this gentleman was, said, if you had a day off, what do you want to do? And I said, oh, I’d love to just hang out at the Chicago History Museum. And he just looked at me and he’s like, well, then maybe should take some classes in history. So that’s I think, how I landed in that direction and actually, I think, it was one of Keith’s courses on women’s history, that was probably one of my first classes at Gustavus.

And then Scandinavian studies, I just always figured that I would have a double major, and I would be able to really work on my Swedish language skills, and learn more about my culture. And then knowing that I really wanted to have the opportunity to study in Sweden. So yeah, I would say, I took… So that’s, if you will, how I landed up in history, I also took a great deal of geography courses, especially with Bob Douglas.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, yeah, one of the greats.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, one of the greats. And just really enjoyed geography as well. When I remember telling my parents that I was going to major in history and Scandinavian studies and it was like, but what you going to do with it? And then my mom was like, well, are you going to be a history teacher? And I kept on thinking, mom, I don’t see myself in teaching history in the classroom, but I wasn’t exactly sure. So I think, I just kind of, worked my way around that question.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, we still get that question. You know, whoever that advisor was, that’s great advice. That’s advice we still get, which is, especially at a liberal arts college, do, do, do what you love, start out doing what you enjoy. And when you get that education, it really doesn’t matter so much what’s your major is? You know, from [inaudible 00:28:17] history majors are in all walks of [crosstalk 00:28:20].

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Oh, absolutely, yeah. Oh, and I was going to say, quite often when I work, I work with a fair amount of like high school and college students through a couple of different programs in Minneapolis. And quite often their first generation that are going to be going to college. And we talk about, you know, I share a little bit of my experience, and the questions that they’re getting from their parents are the same questions I was getting from my parents 30 years ago. And a lot of people ask, what’s good about learning history. Nowadays, we have Google, right? So you can google almost anything you want and get the dates and the time, and all that information. But I think what history really does is it teaches you how to read and digest information. It teaches you how to formulate an argument. It teaches you how to write and it teaches you to kind of, step back and take a little bit more of an observer’s view on things that are happening around you. Not only thinking about things in the past, but things that are happening right now.

Greg Kaster:

You are right.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

And that’s one thing that I think a lot of museums talk about is, how do you begin to collect the near history? How do you begin to collect the now? And it’s one of those things where I think, that’s where we’re studying history really helps people and you don’t have to be in the history field for that. Those same talents apply whether you’re in the business field, or in communications, or whatever it might be.

Greg Kaster:

I’m just thinking if we ended the podcast this moment, I’d be happy, because I mean, that’s a great pitch for studying the past and learning about the past. So true, everything you said is absolutely true. And I think, we’ll maybe come back to the point about collecting history now, unless that also interests me. So in Scandinavian studies, I’m guessing, it was professor’s Roland Thorstensson [inaudible 00:30:33] those people you work with.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yes, those are the tri-factors. Yes and I mean how absolutely fortunate, also just master teachers in their own, right.

Greg Kaster:

Yes, exactly.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

And, I have a special spot in my heart for both Roger and Roland and Byron, for that matter. I think Roger, I took one of my very first classes with Roger. And once again, coming from a Technical High School, I did not know how to write. I think I’ve maybe written one paper in high school before I left for Gustavus. I think goodness, I had someone like Roger, who, after I turned in my first paper kind of pulled me aside and said, we’re going to teach you how to write. And what I mean, just such a talented writer in his own, right.

Greg Kaster:

Yes. Tell me [crosstalk 00:31:30].

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah. That was fantastic. I met my husband, there at Gustavus, and it was in a class with Roland Thorstensson.

Greg Kaster:

Which is interesting.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

My husband’s name is Steve Lane. He was a chemistry major and we just happened to be taking Roland Thorstensson class on cross country skiing.

Greg Kaster:

And Roland, who’s from Sweden.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Who’s from Sweden, exactly. And then, of course, Byron, I mean, he’s been nothing but supportive of, not only, history classes that I took at Gustavus but really cutting, helping, direct me at Uppsala and ever since then, and obviously, we keep them quite busy at the American Swedish Institute. He’s a great volunteer whether it’s giving tours, or helping us do research. Sometimes I joke and I say, I need to dial a historian because I’m a question. So yeah, just three fantastic people.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, that’s great. Byron, also, of course, a terrific historian of Sweden Scandinavian. [inaudible 00:32:47] And I mean, the historian in terms of his books and scholarship. Do you know Joy [inaudible 00:32:53] if you ever have, she’s another one [crosstalk 00:32:54].

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yes, again. Yeah. She’s another [Gustavus 00:32:56]. She’s written some really fantastic books, especially looking at women within kind of the Swedish American Immigration story.

Greg Kaster:

Exactly, and I recorded with her. Yeah, she’s terrific, her book is terrific. And what point, before we come to your museum work, let’s go to Sweden briefly. So you studied abroad, and Gustavus rightly prides itself on the number of students who study abroad. Whether it’s in January term, or for a semester, or for, I guess, in your case, the academic year.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

So absolutely, sweet. Tell us a little bit about that. What were your junior and what did you study?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yes, so I went… So I’m most fortunate. I’m a Swedish citizen. I have Swedish citizenship because of my dad. So I studied at Uppsala University, but because of my citizenship, I was also able to do some additional, I don’t know what to call it, stuff, activities, while I was in Sweden. So I did go to Uppsala and I did study Swedish as foreign language student, and then I studied history. And when you study history at Uppsala University, Swedish universities, you go in and you study a line.

And so what that means it’s not that kind of liberal arts education that we have here in the U.S. So when you study history in a term, you would have four history classes a term and you would study one class, you have a couple of reading days, and then you take an exam. And then you move on to the next class, study, take the exam, so you’re only taking one class at a time. And actually, that worked out, I figured really well for me. I was the only American student studying in the history program at that time and you learn a lot about your own history by studying your own history in a different country, right?

Greg Kaster:

Oh, yeah, well stood.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, because there were a couple of times where we’re talking about the U.S. and I was sitting there going, yeah, no, I, this is how it’s been taught in the U.S. And in Uppsala University to, at least at the time, and I don’t know so much nowadays, it has a little bit more of a Marxist point of view, when you’re studying history. And so you’re really looking at, it was a lot more socioeconomic theme within the history classes. So I was able to do that, but I was also able to do things like, I worked when I was in Sweden. And Uppsala, it’s an amazing city, and just an outstanding university.

Greg Kaster:

Want to ask you about that. How far is it from Stockholm? [inaudible 00:35:58]

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, it’s just about a 15 minute train ride north of Stockholm.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, it’s close, okay.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah. So like I said, I had all my aunts and uncles and my cousins. And so for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by nice homes everywhere. And everyone is well, my aunt would have me for once in a while, it’s probably about every other week. My aunt would call me up, the matriarch of the family, and she would be like, how are you? And I’m like, fine. She goes, great, we’ll see you for dinner on Sunday. And I said, absolutely, I’ll be happy to be there.

Greg Kaster:

That’s great.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah. So it was phenomenal.

Greg Kaster:

Have been able to get back to Sweden since that time?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, I have. It took a little while, but I would say in the last 10 years or so, I’ve been able to go maybe four or five times.

Greg Kaster:

Wow. I’ve never been, I want to go, I desperately want to go. It’s exactly one of the things that attracted me. I don’t know about you, growing up in Chicago, well, I wasn’t growing up in a Swedish/Swedish American family. I had not heard of Gustavus, but when I learned about it, I learned first that some excellent historians had gone including James McPherson, a great civil war. Sydney Eckman Ahlstrom, a great historian at Yale for long time at first at Princeton. So that, okay, I sold.

And then it was the Scandinavian Swedish part of it that really got me. I’m old enough to remember the Vietnam War and subject to the draft and thinking about Sweden’s opposition to the war and all thing, if the movies and the design and so that coffee. It just sounds like a pretty cool, cool place and I didn’t get the Lutheran part at all, because that was not part of my tradition, but I certainly got the Swedish part. So you come back, you finished your senior year, I guess it is at Gustavus, so at what point did you know, like, I want to go into museum work, or did that happen only subsequently after graduation?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, probably, that’s a very good question. I think it probably have been more after I left Gustavus. When I graduated, Gustavus was economically not a real positive time here in the U.S. And so I did go back home to Chicago, and my first job was working for a brokerage firm in downtown Chicago. And I had the kind of the same reaction to that job as I did to my macroeconomics class, but it was a job and therefore, I think, it was around that time that I really started thinking that I wanted to work in museums.

And I started looking at some graduate programs and there was a graduate program in public history at Loyola University, Chicago. And I knew I couldn’t afford it, but I started looking into Loyola, and found out that if you work there full time, you could take up to two graduate classes for a semester as a benefit. And so I worked on finding a job at Loyola University and that’s how I started graduate school. So I was working full time and then started taking graduate courses in public history. And as much as I enjoyed classes in public history, I realized that, what I really wanted in the museum world was more training and coursework in material culture exhibitions museum education.

And so I was looking around for U.S. and obviously, some of the best programs are out East, Cooperstown, New York, is kind of the granddaddy of them all. But there was this program down at Eastern Illinois, in historical administration and looking at the curriculum, I realized it really kind of hit upon, what it was that I wanted, so it was something that I knew I was going to work towards. In the meantime, I have the opportunity for my first museum job to Chicago Historical Society. I worked as a referenced archivist, so I took that job and then put off any other kind of thoughts of graduate school for a year or two, because I was really loving my work there. I worked with a fantastic head of the archival department, his name was, excuse me, Archibald Motley Jr.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, great name.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, his father was African American painter in Chicago, his mom was white. So just even talking to him about growing up in a biracial family in Chicago, but he was the type of archivists that, I mean, he knew everything that was in the collection. And so it was a really great start to understanding about working in a museum. And that I was on grant money and the grant money dried up, and so then I was like, well, this is a perfect time to go finish my graduate degree. And that’s when I went to Eastern Illinois, and I was able to… With the coursework I had already done in public history, I finished my degree down there in a year and I had a fellowship with the last independently owned telephone company in Illinois. I was helping create an institutional archive for them, to not only talk about, what was at the time going to be their 100th anniversary of being a telephone company, owned by a family, but also just trying to get them to understand records management and what needs to be kept to tell the story of their company in the future.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, that’s really cool. I think, and tell students sometimes [inaudible 00:42:41] corporations, companies, whether they’re big or… They need historians, they need archivists to manage all that history. That’s really cool. I saw that on your CV, and yeah. I bet that was fun.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, oh, it was and it was great, to be in Downstate Illinois. It’s a very different Illinois than Chicago. And there was a large Amish community just about two towns over and so when I would go to my fellowship, the company was in Mattoon, Illinois. And you would go into Mattoon, and there’d be cars and horses and buggies on the streets. Yeah, just another one of those kind of wonderful life experiences where you’re like, okay, this is different.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I’ve been there a couple more than once in Mattoon. And then by the way, when you said Downstate Illinois, again, smile on my face. When I came to Minnesota, that’s the first time… Outstate Minnesota.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Right.

Greg Kaster:

We talked about downstate and that’s where [crosstalk 00:43:53].

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Exactly.

Greg Kaster:

And that’s where my cousin still farm, it’s a family farm [inaudible 00:43:58] so still in the family. So you’ve had this really interesting career, mostly with ASI, and that’s where you’ve been for since, about 13, 14 years now?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

And I mean, it’s just fascinating to you what you’ve done there’s the education work, there’s the purity engagement piece. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about… We’re going to tell you what you do as the director of experience, what is community engagement involve from working for, let’s say, as you work for the Minnesota Children’s Museum, or even now the Swedish Institute?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah. So I think, probably the best way to talk about it, is for ASI and what it is we do and what we do, and why we do it. When I came to ASI, we were in the process of strategic plan and at that time, we switched the mission statement of the institution. Prior to that, ASI had a very traditional mission statement, like many historical institutions at the time, it was to collect, preserve and interpret the history of, and then you add in the pieces, right, Swedish American community or whatever, whatever.

And when I came to ASI, ASI sits in the middle of the Phillips West neighborhood in Minneapolis. And it was never Swedish neighborhood, it never will be a Swedish neighborhood, and yet here is ASI smack-dab in South Minneapolis. And so when I arrived at ASI, and I would walk the neighborhood, talk to people. It is really a neighborhood of newly arrived immigrants, a lot of East African, a lot of Mexican Guatemalan, it is a vibrant and diverse community. And so there was no doubt about it, there were some great opportunities there for us to figure out how to live and work in a neighborhood.

I think that’s the other thing that’s pretty unique about ASI is museum. Most museums don’t have the opportunity to sit in a neighborhood. So as I moved towards a new mission statement, which is to be a gathering place for all people and explore themes of arts, culture, the environments within during links to Sweden, because we are the American Swedish Institute. So when I came to ASI, I was really fortunate and we still are super fortunate to have Bruce Karstadt, as our CEO. And I really wanted to start working more with the Phillips West neighborhood, these were the kids in the families who literally walked by our building every day.And so I started reaching out to a couple of neighborhood schools, we have head start program in our neighborhood, we have assisted living, subsidize housing in our neighborhood. And it was really starting to have a discussion and just being a neighbor. Always being able to say thank you for being our neighbor and being part of your neighborhood.

We got really involved in the Phillips West Neighborhood Association and we still are. And it was more about just, I guess this is maybe where some of my notions of community engagement, perhaps are slightly different than other colleagues in different museums. It wasn’t ever about me going out and teaching about Swedish American history, or Swedish American culture, or Swedish American art. It was more about what were the needs of the community and talking to people and then saying, okay, if these are the needs, then what are the resources? How do we work together to create a more vibrant and healthy community?

Greg Kaster:

Just as fantastic. I think it’s absolutely fantastic, unless we start rewarding,

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Oh-

Greg Kaster:

Sorry to interrupt, but the other thing that I’m thinking of like, when I think about this, even with Gustavus or even Minnesota, people think, you know, they think well, Sweden or Scandinavia, all white. Give me second.[inaudible 00:48:49] about Sweden today, Kreischer, Scandinavia, I mean, the diversity the immigrant experience. There’ll be ways, I was thinking that will to connect along those lines with immigrant populations in your museum’s neighborhood.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

… Oh, absolutely. Yeah, and we actually have kind of two major programs that we’ve developed over the years, and one of them is called the story swap. And it is a program that we co-created with Wellstone International High School, which is the new arrival high school, or one of them for Minneapolis public schools. And I think that the other interesting thing, the way we’ve gone about this is kind of in humble learning, I think is one way that I hear it being spoken of. We the museum don’t have the answers. We the museum don’t have to be the authority. We the museum can have questions and ask questions, and then stop talking and start listening. And so story swap was a program that we co-created with Wellstone, they were looking for ways to support their newly arrived high school students. Many of them arriving to Minneapolis on their own without families, and tried to help them place their selves and kind of the historical continuum of immigration in the U.S.

And ASI was in a terrific spot to do that and ASI, the institution has been around since 1929. And so there is a story to be told about saying, this is how many of our members of our community arrived in Minnesota, but the story doesn’t end there, the story just starts there. And what happens to all the generations that come thereafter? And in many cases, for a lot of these students that we work with, they’ve never been to a museum before, because they’re from a country where museums are for the top 1%. What does it mean for a museum? How can a museum support that vibrant, healthy community? And so what we did, we started pairing up Swedish American elders with high school students at Wellstone. And just said, it was about swapping stories, it was also about swapping food. Students would come to ASI, we do the full Swedish smorgasbord and then the elders, we would go to Ballston High School, and the kids would bring in food of their home countries.

And depending on the year, it varied, if it was more East African, or if it was more South American, or even Asian, or whatever it might be. And that was one program that we started fairly early on and just continue to work on, because there’s magic that happens when you get high school students to sit down with elders. And the elders see past the droopy pants, and the attitudes, or the earpods in the ears. And they really are connecting with these students and their new lives here in the U.S.

Greg Kaster:

What a fabulous program, wow.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, it is really just been fantastic.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, that’s just fantastic. And again, can even some people who grew up in Minnesota may not just understand just how diverse this state really is. I can’t remember how many languages are spoken in the Minneapolis Public School service. I was staggered by that, but that’s… I just love the way that sounds. It sounds fantastic. Yeah. There was that part of your… Talk a little bit about your current position, which is director of experience, what does that mean and it seems like, you almost do everything.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah. So first of all, I’m just part of a larger team. So there are… Right now we have a 13 full time people, so roughly, half of the museum is full time staff, are in the experience department. And what the experience team is a group of individuals that we cover, museum collections, exhibitions, programs and visitor services. So if you will, the experience that anyone might have in coming to ASI and visiting us in person, or right now, because of COVID, visiting us online, or taking an online virtual class or whatever it is. So my current position is really, it’s being a team lead for a group of super creative, highly talented, energetic, enthusiastic team that believes in engaging with the public. And that means everything from in collections work, making sure that our collections are being managed and that we have both physical and intellectual control over the objects. It also means that we are working, as fast as we can as a smaller institution, to make sure that our collections are accessible via digital means on our website.

Within the exhibitions department, it means combing the Nordic countries for exhibitions that we think people in the upper Midwest would really love. It also means thinking about our audience and being audience focused. What does our audience, what are they interested in seeing? What are they interested in hearing? Programs runs the gamut from… We have a couple of programs for our youngest visitors or early childhood visitors like babies at the castle and kids at the castle, where we’re giving early childhood the time and the place to come and play at the museum, because play is that which is most important for them. Up through handcraft, cooking classes, we run one of the largest Swedish language programs in the country, we have over 250 active adults taking Swedish language courses.

And then visitor services, which is, every time you walk in the door, Greg, and you’ll see people sitting at the admission desk at ASI, and welcoming people, and answering questions, and making sure that people are enjoying their experience while at ASI. So it’s actually, it’s a really cool job. This year has been a lot stressful, but it is, you never get the same thing twice. And to that end, it keeps you on your toes.

Greg Kaster:

Right. Now, just reading the description on your CV, it sounds like that’s what I’m saying, you’d never be bored. Always new challenges, always interesting. And yeah, you didn’t want to be director of experience, a bit pandemic, but you know, you can add that to your resume as well. By the way, it’s a very friendly museum, very welcoming, it’s one thing I love about, also just beautiful, I mean there’s the old mansion, but then the newer wing is just stunning.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Exactly. Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

Just a little bit.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

I mean, the thing about what you’re describing, it’s simple. I mean, it’s different, right. And even when we were growing up, in museums I mean, as much as I felt comfortable and alluded too. They were sort of formidable. I mean, I don’t think they were [crosstalk 00:56:40] they don’t see, I don’t think there was public facing is… The way, you describe finding out where are the audiences is? What are they interested in? And just here’s what we have, come be interested in this.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Right, yes. So the museum world is definitely moved further away from being the authority voice, and so to a certain extent, you’re absolutely correct. But even think about it, one of the ways I love to think, and I think is a great example, even think about zoos. Greg, when you and I were growing up, and we’d go to Brookfield Zoo, or Lincoln Park Zoo, if you will, in order to see the animals quite often our parents would have to pick us up and hold us up high. If you go to a zoo nowadays, you’ll see those barriers are gone, you’ll see that the glass goes all the way to the floor, so that whether you’re a small child, or you’re a person in a wheelchair, that you have the same accessibility to the experience.

And I would say, this has been the track that many museums have been on. And there are museums that do better at it, and they’re in those museums that still need to do more work. And it is about knowing your audience and about giving up control. Yes. And one of the things you’ll find for a lot of, not a lot, there are some museum people that have a very hard time giving up control. And I think that’s one thing that we do very good at ASI. We do that very well. And the fact that you know we have community curators that come in, or holiday exhibitions are put together by community curators. We’ll give them the theme. We’ll help support them along the way. But it’s really for that community to decide what it is they want, what’s the story that they want to tell?

And for those people who don’t understand what we do for the holiday experience, we’ve always had a more of a Nordic approach to the holidays, where we’re highlighting the five Nordic countries. For the last, I don’t know probably 10 years now, we’ve always invited at six cultural community to join us, whether it be the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Mexican-American Business League of Lake Street, Russian Museum of Art, the Czech and Slovak American community, this coming holiday season will be the Mung Museum. And so it is just once again giving communities the opportunity to tell their own story, we don’t have to do it for them. But it’s also about expanding audiences, it means that, yes, ASI has access to their audience, but that means that their community has access to the ASI audience.

And so it does give us the opportunity to help share a little bit more of, if you will, cultural competence, understanding that not everyone in Minnesota celebrates Christmas, not everyone in Minnesota celebrates Christmas the same way. And so you know, we do get some people who joke around and they’ll come in and they’ll be like, I’m not Swedish, can I be here? And our answer is absolutely. A lot of our staff is are not Swedish and that’s great is it should be, because ASI isn’t just about Swedish Americans. It isn’t just for Nordic Americans, and that’s something that we’re working on every day.

Greg Kaster:

That’s just fantastic. I think it’s great and I agree, just what I’ve seen, and attended, but I’ve been… Heard about some of those Christmases, they sound like fun. What you just said a minute ago about giving up control, I remember one of the most important things I ever read about teaching, I don’t when I read it, but many years ago, was about exactly that. You need to give up control and how hard that is, right? We’re the experts we think and in some ways we are and in some ways you are too, but how do you let go of some of that and listen, whether it’s to students or to the community?

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, and actually, I think here’s a really, fun and concrete example to that. What preschoolers need, they have no concept of time, the concept of time for children really doesn’t come until they’re almost eight or 9, 10 years old. And so I think there are many historical museums that feel like, when they’re working with preschoolers, it’s like, what’s that content we can give them? And it’s really starting from the place of the learner, it’s saying, what are preschoolers interested in? Numbers, shapes, colors.

So we’ve been able to do a lot of fun programs at the museum with like, lets find all the squares in the building, we have this beautifully recreated carpet in the grand hall in the mansion, find a blue flower, lets hop on a blue flower today, let’s dance. In the summertime, it’s about making sure that students have safe places to play in the neighborhood. We have great outdoor space. Quite a few summers, we’ve done sprinkler Mondays, we bring up the hose and the sprinkler and the preschoolers come over with their groups. They have their bathing suits on and we just run through the sprinkler on the grass lawn. And once again, it’s meeting the community, what is it that they need, and then how can we help fill those needs?

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, you’re a community resource, obviously, in so important ways. Wow, I can keep going, this is so interesting. And really getting to I want to talk a little bit more about the collections, or we’ll have to come back and do this another time. There’s a lot I want to talk about. Keep up the great work. And now it’s about, we’re finishing here about 11:00 and boy, if I didn’t have to great, I think I’d meet you at FIKA for the lunch.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yeah, well, we’ll have to do that shortly.

Greg Kaster:

We will do that.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yes.

Greg Kaster:

Absolutely, yeah. It’s a great museum, as people know, who’ve been there. Just architecturally, it’s fantastic. Akin did a tour once I think that was [inaudible 01:03:33] some other of the mansions we found. So congratulations on, I know you’ve had this position for a bit, but still it’s quite exciting. It’s great to catch up with you and learn about what you’ve been doing, all the best.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Thank you.

Greg Kaster:

And we will definitely connect in person soon. You may even see me in one of your sprinkler days.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Yes, please do.

Greg Kaster:

Okay, great to chatting and take good care.

Ingrid Nyholm-Lange:

Thank you so much, Greg.

Greg Kaster:

Bye-bye, you’re welcome. Thank you.

Greg Kaster:

Learning for life at Gustavus is produced by JJ Akin and Matthew Dobosenski of the Gustavus Office of Marketing. Gustavus graduate Will Clark, class of ’20, who also provides technical expertise to the podcast and me. The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Gustavus Adolphus College.

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Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
jakin@gustavus.edu
507-933-7510

 

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