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NCSML recovers from derecho losses, prepares a new vision for BrewNost

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The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids. — photo by Mark Goebel

Since 1974 the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids has been a tourist attraction and center for education as the cornerstone of the Czech Village neighborhood. Through cooking classes, crafts lessons and events like the popular annual BrewNost international beer festival, the museum has offered a sense of connection with the neighborhood’s European cultural heritage.

As the pandemic rages on, museums and other cultural education establishments across the country are grappling with the best approach to stay afloat. It’s not easy, as most of their revenue is based on tourism and physical interaction with their exhibits. But NCSML President and CEO Dr. Cecilia Rokusek hopes to have found a safe middle ground that serves the community and allows the museum to stay operational.

Rokusek was generous enough to answer some questions via email about the museum’s challenges and plans for the future.

What do you consider to be the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library’s role in the community?

Our mission is to preserve, present and transcend unique stories of Czech and Slovak history and culture through innovative experiences and active engagement to reach cross-cultural audiences locally, nationally and internationally. We want to connect to people of all cultures to come together to learn more about their culture and heritage through the history and stories of Czechs and Slovaks.

In what ways has the pandemic — and more recently the derecho — impacted operations at the
museum and that relationship with the community?

Although we were closed at the height of the pandemic, all staff continued to work, some from home and some at the NCSML. The first thing we did was to call all of our members just to check up on them, see how they are and update our database. We embraced technology more than we ever have before, sharing virtual tours, introducing online Czech cooking classes and Czech and Slovak language classes and launching a Facebook Book Club, among other virtual projects. One of the staff wrote and published a children’s Czech and Slovak activity book, which is now for sale in our Museum Store.

During the derecho, we were closed for 11 days due to lack of power. The NCSML endured some damage. Our main building endured some leakage, collections damage and loss of outside flags and loss of two of the three flagpoles. Our three outside metal promotional banner stands and banners were destroyed. Our clock tower took a hard hit and will need a lot of renovation and rebuilding. The downtown Kosek building had severe roof and soffit damage.

What interesting or creative changes have you made to your business model since the pandemic hit?

Even as we welcome members and guests back, we continue to ‘create history’ with an expanded online presence for programs, events and exhibits. Already we have had virtual lessons for children learning at home, a socially distant book signing and webinars with professionals in the U.S. and those in the Czech and Slovak Republics. We will always be here for the community and region, first and foremost, but we want to share all we do with the national and international communities as well. We want them to find out the rich treasures here in Czech Village and the entire Cedar Rapids community.

How have you adapted your plans for the future of the museum for the duration of the pandemic and beyond?

BrewNost, our biggest museum fundraiser, will be completely different this year. Instead of the
community coming to us, we will sell special packages and will send them to local businesses. It’s a win-win situation for our longtime community partners and supporters, which is needed more than ever after the derecho. Packages went on sale Aug. 29. Visit www.ncsml.org/ncsml-events/brewnost to learn more! We will have a great online auction and big raffle, too.

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How can people help and support the NCSML?

If you aren’t a member, please consider purchasing a membership. All members enjoy unlimited admission to the NCSML, invitation to members-only events, one-time 20% off coupon to the Museum Store and a 10% discount year-round, including online, as well as other perks. You can also make a donation to the museum in person, by phone (319-262-8500) or online at www.ncsml.org/support/donate.

We also encourage visitors to come to the museum. We are open seven days a week, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Face masks are required during visits, as well as social distancing. The safety, health and well-being of our members, visitors, volunteers and staff remains our top priority, and we are proud of the steps we have taken to ensure the safety of anyone who visits the NCSML.


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