An NEH grant helped the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library (NCSML) recover from a devastating flood and establish a new identity as an education innovator. NCSML was founded in 1974 by Czech and Slovak immigrants to preserve their history and culture. In 2008, a flood caused $11 million in damage to NCSML facilities, precipitating a move of the entire museum—all 1500 tons of it—500 feet further from the banks of the Cedar River. In the wake of this effort to save the museum, NCSML leveraged an NEH Challenge Grant to raise more than $2.7 million, funding the museum used to establish an educational endowment that sustains an expanding menu of educational programming, now the growing institution’s primary area of focus.
“Thank you. I really enjoyed learning with you. I have no favorite [artifact], because they were all cool. Thanks again. P.S. So cool.”
–Erskine Elementary 2nd Grader on Maňa: One Girl’s Story
The education endowment established with NEH funding enabled NCSML to hire its first Director of Education and create new Common Core-aligned curricula that teach elementary, middle, and high school students about immigration, history, and human rights. Using oral histories and personal effects, NCSML created Maňa: One Girl’s Story, which won the American Association of State and Local History’s 2017 Leadership in History Award. Through an interactive exhibition and classroom activities, the program tells the story of Maňa Machovsky, a local girl who immigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1922 at the age of seven. 68.77.89: Arts, Culture, and Social Change, a program for high schoolers, highlights the role of students and artists in bringing democracy back to Czechoslovakia through 12 lessons grounded in oral histories and artifacts. NCSML provides detailed lesson plans for both programs on its website and has also sponsored workshops for teachers, including Teaching Human Rights in a Global Context, offered through a partnership with the University of Iowa College of Education.
These successful investments in education have greatly expanded the museum’s horizons. In 2018, NCSML established a collaborative partnership with Palacký University Olomouc, one of the most prominent Czech universities, to develop international educational and research projects. Most recently, NCSML was named a Smithsonian Affiliate in recognition of its growing educational impact. “None of this would have been possible without this strong foundation that we were able to establish during our recovery period,” said NCSML’s director of development, Emily Stochl. “The grant from the NEH really could not have come at a more significant time in our organization’s history.”