The first president of Czechoslovakia was born on March 7, 1850. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, whose father was Slovak and mother Moravian, personified resilience—of thought and action during positive times and challenging ones. The consistency of resilience in Czech and Slovak history intrigues me, inspires me, and encourages me to help the museum share the lessons with the world. People need resilience, and they can learn its potential in the stories of others. Like Masaryk’s. And the museum’s. And Cedar Rapids’.
An iconic statue of Masaryk greets visitors to the Faces of Freedom exhibition. The museum in which he stands epitomizes resilience in how the city, museum leadership, and staff did the “impossible” after the floods of 2008. They developed a new vision, moved the 3-million-pound building, and expanded the museum to double its size before the flood. The city’s Masaryk Park was also devastated by the floods, and plans continue on how best to incorporate a re-imagined Masaryk Park into the life of the city. This sort of resilience likely comes as no surprise to those who know and understand the Czech and Slovak cultures.
I asked two of the museum’s board members during my interview for this position what they wished others knew, understood, and appreciated about Czech and Slovak culture that inspires them to help the museum share those stories and characteristics with the world. Their answers focused on hard work, character, humility, and resilience. Those traits are in the cultural DNA of the region.
Another quote in the Faces exhibition comes from Milada Horakova, who said, “Life is hard, it does not pamper anybody … but don’t let it defeat you. Decide to fight. Have courage and clear goals, and you will win over life.” She was executed by the communist party in 1950 when she refused to admit to the false charges of conspiracy and treason. Her verdict was annulled in 1968, and she posthumously received the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1st Class). The new movie Milada shares her courageous story.
Resilience of individuals, museums, communities, cities, countries. Masaryk would be proud.