The Czech-Slovak Museum needs flood repairs


Tales of the Cedar Rapids flood have shifted from horror stories of the disaster itself to drawn-out epics of trudging through recovery purgatory. Accompanying anecdotes of struggling with the destruction, usually on the following breath, is a lament of the ongoing economic crisis, and the issue bends its way finally to how recovery aid and funding should be doled out. Among the top priorities are the some 1,300 properties that need to be repaired or rebuilt and the installation of necessary infrastructure against future flooding. But the physical healing of Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and the wider community is only a complement to the societal, the cultural. One of the most important hearts of Iowa history and culture is in danger of failing.

The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library was hit pretty hard by the storm, and like the rest of the affected area, it has worked exhaustively to stagger back to its feet. The expected costs of reinstating this heart of local Czech and Slovak heritage is $25 million. The museum/library is making efforts to return in small moves, like an interactive exhibit in the old Kosek building, but the main museum building stands gutted. Only a fraction of the amount needed for full rebound is being met. Benefactors in the Czech Republic have donated $400,000 to the cause, and help from insurance, Jump-Start, and FEMA is being worked out, but it won’t be enough. It is time for state and federal elements to take notice of the importance of the facility — 35,000 people visit annually, and the annual money brought in is around $1 million. The American Association of Museums has granted the museum/library its accreditation, something only 5 percent of the nation’s some 17,000 museums can claim. Among other things, the accreditation was awarded for the museum coordinators’ response to the flood but also for the quality of the contributions made to the Cedar Rapids neighborhoods of Czech Village and New Bohemia in their efforts to recover.

Now, the importance of rehabilitating this part of town over another can be debated. There’s a lot of work to do, and for several years on, we will feel the effects of June 2008, so the issue of which segments of the community to devote time and money to cannot be made in a rush. Elements of city planning, damage removal, housing and shelter, all of it can be weighed against the funding dribbling down to us. But a vital part of our strength in facing these challenges is a sense of real community, something that’s ours. Without a grounding in our history we won’t make it. The museum/library is necessary, and maybe it needs a few louder voices to get the attention of people who can help.

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