CEDAR RAPIDS — Although the Flood of 2008 caused $1.3 million in damage to the African American Museum of Iowa, the natural disaster gave the museum’s directors an opportunity to repurpose the building and refocus its programming.
“Education is a huge part of what we do now,” said Tom Moore, executive director.
Moore, 64, one of the museum’s founders, admits the board didn’t focus much on education during the museum’s planning stages in the late 1990s.
“We really missed our calling,” he said. “It’s not so much about having a building, but what we do in the building.”
After the flood damaged the first floor of the museum at 55 12 Ave. SE, the board decided to emphasize education. A schoolteacher was brought in for input when the exhibit area was redesigned, the former library now is a learning lab classroom and a full-time educator and an assistant educator were hired.
As well as hosting students at the museum site, the staff offers traveling exhibits, public programs and classes through the Iowa Communications Network, or ICN.
In a state with an African American population of less than 2 percent, the museum’s goal is to reach as many young students as possible.
“We are still in the process of changing the thinking in schoolchildren,” Moore said. “We have to tie in African American history with core curriculum requirements.”
Another factor in focusing on education is the availability of state grants.
“More financial grants are available for education than for programming as it fits in with the statewide diversity focus,” Moore said.
Since the flood, the museum also partners with libraries throughout Iowa more often.
“We come free and they provide the venue, equipment and audience,” Moore said.
Later this year the museum’s board plans to launch an endowment campaign to ensure long-term sustainability. The museum had its debt paid off in April 2008. Then the flood hit, damaging the building and at least half of its artifacts.
More than 90 percent of the damaged artifacts were preserved, thanks to the museum carrying flood insurance on its contents before the flood.
Now the museum has full flood insurance on the building and its contents.
All the damage and expenses have been paid.
“We’re doing quite well, thanks to the community,” Moore said. “We are back from the flood completely.”
While it is possible the museum may have to move depending on where the city council decides to build a levy, Moore wants to stay in the general area near Czech Village and the New Bohemia Cultural District.“Within two years, this will be the cultural hub of the city,” he said. “We want to be in this area. We are flood-ready and are comfortable living by the river.”