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15 Jun 2020 - 31 Aug 2020

Interviews: Czech organizations in New York resisting the impact of the pandemic

While the society in many places already reopens after the Corona lockdown, getting back to "normal" life in New York City will take time. The city which never sleeps has been impacted in an extraordinary way by the pandemic bringing its cultural life to a standstill. Many local Czech organizations, which are thriving part of the New York cultural landscape, were also affected and had to reduce or cancel their programs. What is their experience with this exceptional situation and how do they see the future? In this next series of interviews, we spoke with their representatives to find out more. Josef Baláž responded for the organization BBLA, Christopher Harwood for the SVU and Susan Lucak for the DAHA association.


"humanity will always move forward …”

Josef Baláž president of BBLA 

with Marek Milde

Josef Baláž, Photo: BBLA Archive

MM: In what situation did the arrival of the coronavirus crisis find the Bohemian Benevolent & Literary Association? What have you been planning during this period?

JB: Overall, 2019 was a very active and – from the point of view of fundraising – absolutely successful year for our organization and the entire Bohemian National Hall. BBLA oversees events and generates contributions for our member organizations, other affiliated associations throughout America, as well as our very close accomplices for organizing cultural events at the Bohemian National Hall, such as the Czech Center New York. COVID-19 put a complete stop to activities in our building. Dozens of cultural and commercial events were canceled. We are returning deposits for the preparation of individual events and canceling subcontractors.

MM: What does your day-to-day activity look like these days? What has the current situation brought to the community life of your organization? 

JB: The BBLA Board of Directors communicates remotely. We are preparing virtual events and activities after the epidemic. Except for the professional management of the BBLA office and 

the coordination of the building’s activities, the entire BBLA Board of Directors is composed of volunteers and sponsors of activities. Because the business activities of many of us have come to a standstill, it means that we can devote more time to volunteering activities, which unfortunately also means that it will not allow us to continue in our generous financial support to specific programs as before. Our colleagues from BBLA who work in the field of medicine, on the other hand, do not have much free time.


Bohemian National Hall, seat of BBLA Photo: BNH

MM: This difficult time has brought about a wave of solidarity among people. Have you encountered any interesting stories that bring hope? 

JB: Due to huge competition in everything and at all times, New York City is a pretty tough place for any activity, not only in business, but also in culture, and the stereotype of an aggressive New Yorker is quite apt. The 9/11 tragedy or today’s coronavirus crisis temporarily humanize ordinary social interaction and create solidarity and a forgiving mindset. I would guess that with growing nervousness of what will come, the strong friendly sentiment will slowly begin to disappear. But in general, people are now receptive to each other. It’s just a matter of when people will have enough.

MM: How do you imagine your program in the future, until the end of this year and beyond?

JB: I expect a revival of activities and the use of the Bohemian National Hall (BNH) at some point, in the autumn earliest, but till the end of the year it will be quite minimal. 


COVID-19 will be with us for a longer period of time and autumn will probably bring another wave, so it can be said that except for the first two months, this year presents a total collapse of activities within BNH and the funding-generating rentals.

MM: Most of us, after all the social distancing, are very much looking forward to the reopening of cultural and social life. Until that happens, would you like to say something encouraging to people?

JB: Our organization has existed for 129 years and I am convinced that in the long run, such a small (actually invisible) virus cannot disrupt the development of society and progress. Maybe the start to a return to the “normal” will go through many more emotional fluctuations, but under the leadership of the BBLA, humanity will always move forward.


Madeleine Albright received the 2018 BBLA Award for unparalleled service to the Czech and Slovak Communities    Photo: Elizabeth Andews



Josef Baláž is originally from Prague (Žižkov). He studied civil engineering and in 1982, he escaped Czechoslovakia when on a ski trip to Austria. He has lived in Germany, western Canada and has lived in NYC since 1985. He has a construction company in New York, is a developer in Canada, owns other technology and consulting companies in NYC, and also invests in technology start-ups. He has been a member of the BBLA since 2006 and supports the foundation’s activities, saying, “Life was good when suddenly Covid came knocking on the door.”

Bohemian Benevolent & Literary Association (BBLA) mission is to preserve the Czech and Slovak culture in New York City as well as to build a cultural and social dialogue between the Czech and Slovak communities and the American public. 

BBLA was established in 1891 to represent Czech and Slovak cultural, educational, and athletic community groups. With contributions from newly arrived immigrants, the Bohemian National Hall (Narodni budova) was built four years later as a gathering place for these organizations in the Yorkville section on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. For over a hundred years the organization has played an important role in preserving the cultural heritage of Slavic immigrants in New York and maintaining contacts with their original lands.

At present, BBLA provides support to six member organizations and fulfills its mission to present Czech and Slovak culture in Manhattan in close collaboration with highly dedicated professionals from the fields of music, literature, visual arts, design, architecture, history, and additional disciplines.





“take this opportunity to recharge your creative batteries…”


Christopher Harwood President of SVU NY

with Marek Milde

Christhoper Harwood, President and Zuzana Halsey, Vice-President  SVU NY, Photo: SVU 


MM: In what situation did the arrival of the coronavirus crisis find the New York chapter of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU)? What were you planning during this period?

CH: We had four events scheduled for the spring which we had to cancel or postpone indefinitely. The first of these was to have been the twelfth edition of our popular “Six-Minute Challenge” program, in which Czech and Slovak (-American) scientists, scholars, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and other professionals active in or near New York present their work in six minutes or less. That was supposed to happen on Wednesday, March 24, but of course did not, and programs scheduled for April, May and June have also been scratched. We also had tentatively scheduled events for the summer that now seem unlikely to materialize. We are hoping against hope that we will be able to resume our programming in the Bohemian National Hall in the fall. 


SVU NY Event, Photo: Archive SVU


MM: What does your day-to-day activity look like these days? What has the current situation brought to the communication life of your organization?

CH: Our activity has been fairly limited. My colleague Suzanna Halsey has continued work on editing video recordings of some of our past events and making them available to the public on our YouTube channel. So much of what we were used to doing before the coronavirus outbreak was about a community that gathered in person in the spaces of the Bohemian National Hall. I suppose it’s been difficult for us to imagine quite how we could re-create that sense of community without being able to meet face-to-face at 321 E 73rd Street.

MM: This difficult time has brought a wave of solidarity among people. Have you encountered any interesting stories that bring hope?

CH: I don’t think I have any really exceptional stories of solidarity to share. Like everyone, I have been encouraged by the steadfastness with which so many New Yorkers have stayed at home, observed social distancing, worn masks when they have had to go to public spaces, and basically put their regular lives on hold in order to protect the most vulnerable among us. And of course I feel tremendous admiration and gratitude for all of the front-line workers who have put themselves at risk in order to care for the sick and provide the basic services that allow us all to continue our lives at least in their current diminished form. It’s been a good ritual applauding and cheering for them every evening at 7:00 from the window of my apartment in Harlem.

The Investigator book launch - CWH with Larry Johnson and Ivana Hrdličková, Photo: Archive SVU 

MM: How do you imagine your program in the future, until the end of this year and beyond?

CH: I do hope that in the fall—or at latest by next spring—we may return to something like “life as usual,” including public gatherings of more than ten people. If there are no signs of such a reopening by the end of the summer, we will clearly have to consider offering some new programming online. It will be a big adjustment for us and for our regular audience, but I guess over the past several weeks we have all had to get used to doing things differently.


MM: Most of us, after all the distancing, are very much looking forward to the reopening of cultural and social life. Until that happens, would you like to say something encouraging to people?

CH: Be strong! Remember that you are staying inside and/or distanced not just for your own health, but for the well-being of the most vulnerable members of our communities. Try to find ways to stay connected with your communities however you can, whether through social media or Zoom meetings, or at small socially distanced gatherings in outdoor spaces. Along with all the difficulties and disappointments it has caused, the lockdown has given us some extra time to think about what all we would like to do once the world reopens. Try to take this opportunity to recharge your creative batteries, reconsider your priorities, and reimagine who you can be and what you can do when the restrictions fall away. 



Christopher Harwood has served as a member of the executive board of SVU NY since 2011 and as its president since 2016. He has taught Czech language, literature and culture as a lecturer in the Slavic Department of Columbia University since 2001. From 2019 to 2021 he is serving as Co-Director of the Center for East Central Europe at the Harriman Institute of Columbia University. Chris received his PhD in Russian literature with a minor in Czech language and literature from Columbia in 2000. 


Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU NY) New York chapter organizes and produces events to foster awareness and appreciation of Czech and Slovak history and culture; to promote the work of Czech and Slovak (and Czech-American and Slovak-American) artists, scientists, scholars, entrepreneurs and other professionals; and to facilitate connections between and among citizens of the Czech and Slovak Republics, members of the Czech and Slovak émigré and heritage communities, and the intellectually and culturally curious in the greater New York area.






“COVID-19 is making us realize what is important in life…”

Susan Lucak Founding Member and President Dvorak American Heritage Association (DAHA) 

with Marek Milde

Susan Lucak Founding Member and President with DAHA members, Photo: Achive DAHA


MM: In what situation did the arrival of the coronavirus crisis find DAHA? What were you planning during this period?

SL: When COVID-19 struck New York City, DAHA had on its schedule two major events. The first was Spring Musical that was to take place on March 29, 2020. This is an annual concert featuring young talents mostly from the Juilliard School of Music pre-college division and seasoned musicians organized by violinist Laura Goldberg. The second was a colloquium related to Dvorak’s final opera Armida scheduled for May 16, 2020. This conference was to include internationally renowned opera director Mary Zimmerman and scholars including Professor Michael Beckerman and Veronika Vejvodova, the Director of Prague’s Antonin Dvorak Museum, among others. The Armida aria was to be sung by soprano Meghan Kasanders.

MM: What does your activity look like these days? What has the current situation brought to the community life of your organization?

SL: New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, was placed on lockdown on March 20, 2020. This has led to much uncertainty, fear, and isolation among people living in New York City. Of course, there was also much courage seen on the part of health care workers caring for the sick as well as essential workers keeping the City going. On April 8, DAHA launched a program called From DAHA With Love in an effort to reach out to our audiences and members to provide solace, comfort and a sense of togetherness in this difficult time. The program has been curated by Professor Michael Beckerman who selected short musical clips from DAHA’s archives or other sources that have been played weekdays and could be accessed on our website, Facebook or Youtube. This activity was supported by Bohemian Benevolent & Literary Association as well as the Czech Center New York.

MM: This difficult time has brought a wave of solidarity between people, have you encountered interesting stories that give hope?

SL: How do you imagine your program in the future, until the end of this year and beyond? Covid-19 crisis has brought people together throughout the world in many different ways. I was touched by quarantined Italians singing together from their balconies. Zoom platform has allowed people to do many activities together despite being isolated physically from one another. As a physician, I see a great collaboration among doctors around the world as well as scientists who are feverishly attempting to develop a vaccine for Covid-19.


DAHA concert in the BNH Ball Room                              Photo: Archive DAHA

MM: How do you imagine your program in the future, until the end of this year and beyond?

SL: Until a vaccine or effective treatment for Covid-19 becomes widely available, it will not be possible for people to gather in large numbers. DAHA will not likely hold any live concerts or events in the 2020-2021 Season but we will replay selected concerts from our archives. We may also do virtual lectures and performances. We will be considering various options in the next few weeks and months as the situation evolves. 

MM: Most of us, after all the distancing, are very much looking forward to the reopening of cultural and social life, until that happens, would you like to say something encouraging to people?

SL: The Covid-19 pandemic will not be with us forever. As in the past, when crises and wars ended, people arose from them stronger. I believe that Covid-19 is making us realize what is important in life and in the end we will be better for it and we will prevail. And then, we will be together again in a more meaningful way. 



Susan Lucak's family escaped from Czechoslovakia in 1969 and immigrated via Austria to the United States when she was thirteen years old. She graduated from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and became a gastroenterologist, practicing in New York City. In 1990, Susan along with others founded Dvorak American Heritage Association (DAHA) in an effort to save the Dvorak house on East 17th Street in which Dvorak lived during his stay in NYC. Since 2006, Lucak has been DAHA's president.

Dvořák American Heritage Association (DAHA) was founded in 1990 when an attempt to save the Dvorak House in Manhattan was made. Antonin Dvorak lived in this House when he was the Director of the National Conservatory of Music in America from 1892 till 1895. Due to complex reasons, the Dvorak House was demolished but the organization has lived on. DAHA’s mission is to commemorate, celebrate, and continue to explore composer Antonín Dvořák's extraordinary musical contributions, with a special emphasis on his influential residency in the United States in the years 1892 to 1895. From its home in the beautifully restored Bohemian National Hall in New York City, DAHA offers concerts, lectures, and educational programs. At the heart of these activities is the Dvořák Room, a newly created exhibition and study space with adjacent performance venues, that will inspire present and future generations by preserving the composer's American legacy.





Marek Milde is Czech born, Prague native, artist and a curator, based in Brooklyn, New York. He is working in tandem with his wife Kristyna Milde on projects investigating culture and environmental issues, their interdisciplinary art practice includes installation, and public art. Their work has been presented nationally and internationally in venues such as Museum of Modern Art, Queens Museum and DOX in Prague. As Exhibition and Production Manager he is organizing programs and exhibitions at the Czech Center NY, and also working for the Exhibition and Collection Department of the Whitney Museum of American Art. He received MFA from Queens College, New York in 2007, he studied Sculpture at Atelier Dodekaeder, Germany, Goetheanum, Switzerland, and the School of Applied Art in Prague. 


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From: 15 Jun 2020
To: 31 Aug 2020


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