CEDAR RAPIDS, IA.-
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
(NCSML) has reaffirmed its commitment to the revitalization and renovation of the Czech heritage neighborhoods (Czech Village and New Bohemia) in Cedar Rapids, IA. Museum officials of the internationally known museum and library announced plans to take the opportunity presented by the flood of 2008 to develop the story of the immigrant Czechs in Cedar Rapids as a living example of the Czech and Slovak immigrant story across the country. In doing so it will establish an interactive visitor experience that will remain after the national and international exhibition program and library are rebuilt.
"The flood of 2008 presented the opportunity to answer the question asked by so many visitors, 'Why is the national museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa?'" Gail Naughton, NCSML President/CEO said. "We have always wanted to tell the story and now is the chance to make it happen."
On June 13, 2008 the Cedar River crested at 31.2 feet, 19.2 feet above flood stage, devastating the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, the surrounding ethnic neighborhoods and the legendary Czech Village commercial district. Since that time, recovery has been slow as small businesses have struggled to come back and homeowners await buy-outs or decide whether to rebuild in the flooded area. Flood protection is under development, but not expected to be in place for ten years.
"By demonstrating our commitment to the area, we hope to help revitalize the neighborhood and spur redevelopment of the Czech Village/New Bohemia arts and entertainment district to reach its full potential as a visitor destination," NCSML Board Chair Gary Rozek added. "This historic neighborhood is important to Cedar Rapids and to the world, as demonstrated by the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library being located here. We're staying."
"The NCSML believes that investing in our neighborhood is the right decision at the right moment. Czech Village/New Bohemia is a community asset that must be preserved and we want to help," Naughton added. "And it is truly a national and international asset as well. It is the mission of our museum to tell the national story of the Czech and Slovak immigrant experience, and we can begin, we MUST begin, by preserving and revitalizing this internationally significant cultural asset, before it is gone."
On June 13, 2009, the one-year mark of the crest of the Cedar River, the NCSML plans to open a major exhibition about the 2008 flood that includes the history of the Czech people in Cedar Rapids and the Czech settlement areas of the city. Included in the plans over the next two years are expanded, interactive museum programs to engage the visitor, including: interpretive signage for buildings, walking tours, educational curriculum and school tours, motorcoach and travel packages, and coordinated marketing of all the historic Czech sites and events in the Cedar Rapids area.
"We are installing a multi-media exhibit that extends beyond the gallery and into the community. It will be integrated with Czech Village and New Bohemia, authentic 20th century ethnic commercial districts once common in many Czech and Slovak neighborhoods across the country, but hard to find intact today," said Rozek.
The Czech Village and New Bohemia commercial districts are two distinct neighborhoods. New Bohemia had its peak from 1892 through the 1920s. It was a vibrant extension of downtown, hosting two significant social halls in addition to numerous Czech immigrant-owned businesses. Czech Village, located across the Cedar River from New Bohemia, grew out of this ethnic neighborhood. It reached its height of popularity from the 1930s through the early 1960s, when a diversity of local shops provided the basic necessities with authentic Czech flair. "You could still go in to some of these shops before the flood and hear conversations in Czech," said Naughton.
The NCSML received a $405,000 gift from the government of the Czech Republic in October, which will be used as seed money for the project, and fund raising will take place to secure the remainder of the funds.