- A previous exhibit of 'Zero to One,' the interactive child/parent installation that opens at House of Sweden this weekend. (Photo courtesy House of Sweden)
Sweden is a small nation unafraid of big questions.
Usually when an arts organization books a themed arts series or season, it’s something bite-sized and manageable: Spanish composers, mid-century modernism, new artists on the cusp, etc. Not so for the House of Sweden. This week, the Swedish Embassy’s cultural center launches its 11th season based on the "Fabric of Life." It’s a huge theme that promises to leave few stones unturned.
The embassy’s programming will cover early childhood development, design, music, art, film, literature, public policy, sustainability, and health, all under the umbrella of, well, life, with a focus on big issues facing the industrialized world. House of Sweden is always "thinking about what’s a good subject to talk about in Washington," says Gabriella Augustsson, the Embassy’s press counselor. Its mission is not exactly to sell Sweden but to be "engaged in dialogue and [to] form partnerships. It’s not about just projecting messages. It needs to be a two-way communication."
To that end, House of Sweden will host numerous talks and seminars, including a March 9 talk with Maggie Arthur, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, and a couple discussions of women's changing roles in the Swedish and American economies (Female Entrepreneurship: Myths and Realties next month, and Women: The New Bread Winners in May). Later on, the embassy will team up with the Center for American Progress to host a discussion of "socialized" health care and the Swedish health-care model. It’s big stuff but not unfamiliar territory for the forward-thinking embassy, whose past themes have included Water and Environment, Cars and Transportation, and Architecture and Design.
But it wouldn’t be House of Sweden if it didn’t get a little New Age-y, too. Parents will want to check out "Zero to One: The First Year," an installation that encourages bonding between parents and their very young children. In the installation’s "under-stimulation room" — a sparsely furnished area with gentle music and a "white waving sea," according to the embassy’s website — parents and children are permitted to simply sit on the floor and interact. "Zero to One" runs concurrently with "Swedish Seeds," a traveling interactive exhibit that lets older kids fiddle with Swedish-designed toys, including Lervik Design’s awesome glow-in-the-dark swing.
If you want to go this week, stop by this Thursday for the official opening event, a preview of the embassy’s exhibition of the work of 17 Swedish designers. Friday’s cabaret with Olivia Stevens is already sold out, but more fun stuff will be announced throughout the year, says Augustsson, including more parties in the vein of its successful House of Sweden After Dark series, and a big cookout event with Swedish chefs in June. Many events are free, and all are open to the public. This kind of accessible, breezy programming is part of why Washington Post Express readers named House of Sweden "best embassy" last year.
Indeed, the ultra-modern embassy on the Potomac has earned a reputation as a kind of hipster outpost. But with the intellectually adventurous range of programming planned for this year, it's difficult to pigeonhole House of Sweden. Augusston says, "I think we have a place, but it’s up to others to judge if we play a role or not." She acknowledges that some people make certain associations with Sweden — IKEA, H&M, Ingmar Bergman, cool architecture — but the whole idea is to "be really honest about what is happening in your country." She adds, "I don't think it's possible to [pay] an ad agency for them to package the country... that won't fly."
Other House of Sweden event highlights