Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids celebrates reopening

In June 2008, the Czech and Slovak Museum in the US state of Iowa was hit by a devastating flood, which has caused damage running into millions of dollars. Now, nearly two years later, it has opened in a new location in the Kosek Building, right in the middle of the Czech Village. To mark the first step on the road to its recovery, the Czech and Slovak Museum has put up a new exhibition called “Rising Above: the story of a people and the flood”. I spoke to the museum’s director Gail Naughton.

“The Kosek building was built in 1913 and it has had various uses during its life. Its most famous was when it was owned by the Kosek family and it was a dime store, selling candy and all sorts of things. It is very fondly remembered. It is located in the Czech Village, which is the ethnic commercial district in Cedar Rapids, and the Museum purchased the building and has now put a new museum exhibition in there.”

If I understand it correctly, the Kosek building is just a temporary location of the National Czech and Slovak Museum.

“I wouldn’t use the word temporary, actually. It is the first step of our progress in coming back from the flood in June 2008. The exhibition that we are installing there is the story of the Czechs and Slovaks in Cedar Rapids and the development of this neighbourhood and the museum and also the story about the flood, which is now of course a part of this history here. We hope that the exhibition will continue to be open after we open our new museum and library.”

When do you think that could be?

“We hope that that happens in the year 2012, so from two to two and a half years from now.”

Apart from the exhibition dedicated to the floods, what else can be found in the Kosek building?

“In our Kosek building we have our own administrative offices for the museum, we have a classroom for children, we have many school tours and children that come through, and a museum store. We have many imported items from the Czech Republic and Slovakia that we sell there. So this is a really good start for us to get back on our feet after the flood and open a wonderful exhibit and get back to telling the story of Czechs and Slovaks that we want to do.”

The Czech Village was one of the areas hardest hit by the floods in June 2008. Looking back now, how badly was it stricken and how did it affect life in the village?

“It was devastating. All of the buildings had eight to ten feet of water in them but many of these small business owners have rebuilt, have renovated their buildings and reopened. Some buildings have changed hands and there is new ownership developing new businesses in the village so it has made remarkable progress in coming back and we hope that it will be even stronger and better than it was before the floods.”