Museum on schedule for July grand opening

By Pat Shaver

Photos provided by the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library

CEDAR RAPIDS- It will be a celebration four years in the making.

The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids will reopen at its new location in an expanded building. The museum sustained severe damage when the Cedar River flooded in 2008.

The museum will open to the public on Saturday July 14. That weekend, a two-day festival will be held featuring music, dancing, food and entertainment.

The expanded museum and library will include a permanent exhibition double the previous size that will feature the immigration story of Czech and Slovak Americans. There will be three galleries for permanent and temporary exhibits.

A rendering of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids.

The building will feature a 55-seat auditorium, three galleries including a 7,200-square-foot permanent exhibition hall, a classroom, a 5,500-square-foot library, a reception hall that can seat up to 400, a riverview terrace, a catering kitchen and an expanded store.

There will be an outdoor amphitheatre for heritage, musical and theatrical programs.

Museum and library offices will be on the second level of the new addition. The building will also be LEED certified and will utilize geothermal heating and cooling and have solar panels.

“The museum is coming back so strongly and it has brought significant dollars to the city,” said Gail Naughton, president and CEO of the museum and library.

Ms. Naughton said the construction and work on the building has been on schedule. The wet spring last year delayed the building move, but crews were able to work around that delay.

All of the major construction is complete and the finishing is done on the building. Now, they are working on the odds and ends like landscaping, she said.

“This is significant on many levels. I think it’s significant for the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library to come back from such a devastating disaster,” Ms. Naughton said. “I think a lot of other museums that were less strong might not have survived.”

The expanded building will offer more space for museum exhibits and programming.

“It’s important on a city and state level, it’s a sign of recovery for the city. We think it’s a real beacon in how the city is going to come back,” Ms. Naughton said.

The project helped bring construction jobs, they spent money on building materials and other equipment, which have also had an economic impact, Ms. Naughton added.

“For Cedar Rapids to have a major national museum is an asset. We not only pay our professional staff but we bring visitors from all over the world. It is very much a destination visit,” Ms. Naughton said.

The museum attracts visitors from across the state and country, as well as from other countries. Ms. Naughton noted that with many in the baby boomer generation retiring, they have the money and time to travel.

“That group is traveling more than ever. It’s a target group that travels for art, culture and history,” she said.

Many visitors are not Czech/Slovak, she added. With the developing New Bohemia/ Czech Village neighborhood, the museum is an attraction for locals, as well.

“The story we tell is a human story. A story of recovery and identity,” she said.

“About 70 percent of the support came from Iowans. That’s very significant for the state,” said Diana Baculis, director of marketing and communications with the museum.

The museum will open with the Alphonse Mucha: Inspirations of Art Nouveau exhibition, featuring paintings, jewelry, sculptures and lithographs. The exhibit comes from the Mucha Foundation in Prague and London and will feature about 230 works.

Touch-up work continues at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids.

During the grand opening, the museum will feature four exhibits including an immigrant house.

“Visitors will be able to tour the building and see all of the nooks and crannies that you would probably never see,” Ms. Naughton said about the event.

“A healthy arts and culture (scene) is a sign of a healthy city,” Ms. Naughton said. “It shows recovery is happening and investment is being made in the heart and soul of the city.”

The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library was hit hard by the flooding that began on June 13, 2008. The building sustained about 10 feet of water and about $11 in damage.

The 15-year old building was rolled onto its new foundation and secured in its final place 11 feet high, across from the original location, 30 16th Ave. SW last summer. The main floor is about 3 feet above where the flood waters hit in 2008, Ms. Naughton noted. Museum staff and board members had an expansion plan in the works before the flood.

In Oct. 2008, the museum opened up a temporary location at Lindale Mall, and eventually renovated a flooded building down the street from the original building, which is where they will stay until they reopen in July.

Staff will begin moving into the new building next month. The move is being done in stages over the next six weeks.