Flood-damaged US Czech and Slovak museum receives millions in aid from Czech government

19-09-2008

Disaster struck the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in the US state of Iowa in June, when extreme flooding submerged the museum building. The damage caused to the building and its contents is thought to run into millions of dollars, and is expected to take years to repair. But the work should be made that little bit easier by a million-crown contribution from the Czech government which has just been announced. The museum’s director Gail Naughton has been in the Czech Republic over the last week to discuss the terms of the gift. I caught up with her in one of her very few spare moments:

“I came to visit the US ambassador here, and government officials of the Czech Republic, first of all to thank them for the gift that they are making to the museum for flood recovery. I came as well to make contact with our colleagues at the National Museum. I’ve also been in Slovakia, where I was talking to the government as well, about a possible gift following the flood.”

So can you tell me what the Czech government has done to help you at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library?

“Yes I can. The government has pledged 10 million crowns in flood recovery for Cedar Rapids, and they are going to be making those donations in the next month or two. It is a wonderful gesture, not only financially speaking, but it is also just a gesture of support, and solidarity, and belief in our mission. It is just fabulous.”

When we have spoken on previous occasions, you have stressed that everything in the collection will be okay. But presumably some things are much more damaged than others, so can you tell me about the items that were worst damaged?

“Well, we are just really getting to know exactly what we are dealing with, because these items were for their best preservation whisked off at the crisis moment to the conservators. And now we are getting back their assessment reports of the damage, and what their recommendations are for restoration. And we need to look at that and make some judgments about which ones we will be able to preserve completely, and which items are less damaged and so we can leave the way that they are. So it is a process which we are very much in the middle of. It is going to take some time, years in fact, I really believe, to deal with all the damaged collections.”

I know that you are continuing to put on exhibitions even without a museum building. So whereabouts in Cedar Rapids are you doing these things, and is this as well thanks to the inhabitants of Cedar Rapids that this is happening?

“Well, we are opening a temporary public location at our local shopping mall, which is a new experience, but it may open new audiences to what we do. We will have an exhibit, a meeting room, a museum store there, we will be able to have some programmes there. So that will be very interesting, we are looking forward to that.”

Have these floods in a way made the relationship between the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library and the Czech and Slovak Republics closer? Because it definitely seems to have raised the museum’s profile here.

“Well, you’re right. Sometimes an opportunity can come out of a crisis. We have always had a very close relationship with the embassies in the United States, the government representatives there, and with the National Museums in the Czech and Slovak Republics, but this opens up new opportunities to work with various people in the archival and library areas and yes, I do think that this has strengthened relationships all across the board.”

19-09-2008