Czech and Slovak Museum in Iowa launches year of celebrations

The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids

The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is marking the 50th anniversary of its founding this year. Radio Prague was at the launch of the official celebrations, which kicked off earlier this month in the Midwest city, known for its large population of Czech and Slovak expats.

Two exhibition openings, an economic summit, a concert of Czech opera singer Ester Pavlů and a gala – all these events were hosted by the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, earlier this month to mark its 50th anniversary.

Cecilia Rokusek | Photo: Klára Stejskalová,  Radio Prague International

The institution that keeps the Czech and Slovak heritage alive far from home and helps Czechs and Slovaks abroad connect with their roots was established in 1974. Fifty years later, it remains “the national epicentre” for Czech and Slovak Americans, President and CEO Cecilia Rokusek told Radio Prague:

“The 50th anniversary is a landmark because 50 years ago a small group of people gathered and said: We need to preserve our culture. So they established a non-profit organization. They were putting their exhibits up in shop windows and department stores and then they got a little house and they started donating money for the cause. In fact, donations have always been our lifeblood. So I think in those 50 years, we've built an institution that we can be proud of.”

Today, the Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids has one of the largest collections of Czech and Slovak books and periodicals, a museum with a collection of more than 23,000 items, as well as one permanent and four temporary galleries.

According to Mrs. Rokusek, the history of the institution can be divided into three major stages. The first one is the establishment of the institution, followed by the devastating floods in 2008, which forced the museum to move its building to a different location:

This astronomical clock will grace the museum in Cedar Rapids | Photo: Klára Stejskalová,  Radio Prague International

“We could have easily said: It's ruined, we're not going to do that. But through the tenacity of the board and the president, they moved the museum, rebuilt it, made it stronger and bigger.”

The third phase, says Ms. Rokusek, is the future, for which they have set four major goals:

“One of them is that we need to become more virtual and digital to the rest of the world, so that people would have access to our digital collections. Secondly, we want to expand and redo our permanent exhibit, which is called Faces of Freedom -The Immigrant Story. We need to update it to reflect Czechia and Slovakia in the 21st century.

“Goal number three is that we want to build a Centre for lifelong education and learning, so that people of all ages could come here for a week at a time and learn about our culture art, skills and music. And the final one is that we would like to build a Centre for immigration, democracy and freedom, because we believe that the Czech and Slovak stories and how they fought for freedom in non-violent ways and what they accomplished is an example for the world.”