Monika Koblerová – director of New York’s Czech Centre
One of my first ports of call on a recent visit to New York was the city’s Czech Centre, which is at Madison Avenue and 83rd St in Manhattan. At least that’s where it’s located for the moment – later in the year it’s moving to the Bohemian National Hall, around 15 minutes walk away. New York Czech Centre director Monika Koblerová talks about that move and much more in this edition of One on One.
Do you have particular activities as well, such as Czech classes?
“We are starting with a Czech class, a Czech club, for children. We hope when we move to the Czech National Building this year that we will continue in this and that we will open several courses of the Czech language.”
There’s a sign outside on the street saying that your areas of activity are arts, business and tourism. Do any of those take priority for you?
“For example our last big event was a retrospective of the films of Miloš Forman at the Museum of Modern Art, a really prestigious organisation. It was the first time Czech film had a retrospective there. It was on for 14 days and was really well attended. Also some celebrities visited this event…”
Tell us who.
“We would like to continue in the project, and next year we will have a retrospective dedicated to Ivan Passer at MOMA.”
Has it taken you long to establish relationships with a lot of these important New York institutions?
“Yes, really a long time, I think since the Czech Centre started, so 11 years. For institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art or the Guggenheim or the Metropolitan Museum we need to have a really good relationship, to show that we are trying to do a good job and to support them, and to bring the best of Czech culture here.”
Which of your activities generates the greatest response from the American or New York public?
“For the public we organise every year a Czech Street Festival on 83rd St, between Madison Avenue and Park Avenue. The whole street is closed and from morning to evening there is a Czech programme – Czech artists, Czech theatre, Czech music, Czech food. Usually more than 4,000 people are here during the Street Festival, and we also organise an after party.”
This may sound like a silly question, but is there any sense in which you are competing with other national centres? I saw around the corner there’s the German Goethe Institute – are you competing with them, or the Polish Centre?
How does it work with planning for you? Are you completely autonomous, or do you coordinate your plans with Prague?
“We are part of a network of Czech Centres. We co-operate with Prague and our headquarters are in Prague.
“The most expensive thing is to bring people from Prague, but to spread them around the USA is not so expensive. It’s a way to share the costs.”
“Madison Avenue and 83rd St is I think one of the best addresses in New York, because it’s only one block from the Museum Mile, from the Metropolitan Museum, from the Guggenheim, the Design Museum, so it’s a great, great location. But we are very small.
“This year we will move to the Czech National Building, in October. It will be a huge building for the presentation of Czech culture. There will not only be a gallery but a restaurant, a multi-functional screening room and a ballroom for 350 people. We’re really glad that we are moving there.”