November 3, 2017

A precious legacy

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The following is a guest editorial by Anisa Mycak, a freelance writer and former columnist of The Ukrainian Weekly. Ms. Mycak’s news story headlined “Ukrainian Museum and Library of Stamford marks 80th anniversary” appeared on the front page of our October 22 issue.

In the Ukrainian American community, whose roots in the United States extend back into the late 1800s, the 80th anniversary of one of its venerable cultural institutions is cause for celebration, not just by its own members, but by the community as a whole. Thus, it is with interest and reflection that we have been following the recent 80th anniversary celebration of the Ukrainian Museum and Library of Stamford, both for what it tells us about this particular institution and for what it tells us about the state of affairs of many other cultural institutions in our community today.

Founded in 1937 by visionary religious leader Metropolitan Archbishop Constantine Bohachevsky of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the U.S., the Ukrainian Museum and Library was seen by him as an essential part of a project to establish a Ukrainian school of higher education in the U.S. The broader goal was to raise and support the national consciousness of Ukrainian Americans and keep them involved not only in the Church but in the building of the community.

Recall that the conditions for creating such an institution were not particularly favorable at the time: the 1930s were not an especially easy time for fund-raising, nor did the preservation of ethnic communities with their unique cultures and languages have much support in the broad anglicized popular culture – searching for “roots” was not to come until the late 1960s and 1970s. Furthermore, the Ukrainian American community was not to see an infusion of a new wave of immigrants for another decade – until the late 1940s. This makes the establishment and survival of the Ukrainian Museum and Library of Stamford for the last eight decades all the more remarkable.

The stories of the many dedicated and visionary founders of our Ukrainian community’s various cultural institutions never fail to inspire. The beginnings are never easy. Not only that – the huge amount of energy, effort, talent and sheer force of will that has gone into building, maintaining and funding these cultural organizations, year after year, decade after decade, has been extraordinary. Buffeted as Ukrainians have been by fate in the last several centuries, we ought to be especially grateful for the cultural organizations such as museums and libraries, which are the repositories of the precious works of art of past generations, expressions of the unique artistic spirit of our ancestors, and its books and archives, which are the protectors of our historical memory.

In American society today, there seems to be a new interest in culture. Large museums in America’s cities are bursting with visitors; there is broad interest in ancestry and genealogy research; the freedom to revel in one’s ethnic background is there. Hopefully, such sentiments are also growing in the Ukrainian American community, whose members need to recommit themselves to its precious and valuable cultural institutions, founded by their ancestors on American soil many decades ago.

It is gratifying to read about the continued vibrancy of our Ukrainian community’s cultural institutions, as reflected in the excellence, energy and expertise of their leadership and staff. We are heartened by the existence and annual meetings for the past six years of the Ukrainian Heritage Consortium of North America, a league of leaders of museums, libraries and archives, and look forward to sharing their reports with our readers.

You may be asking: How can I give our precious cultural organizations the support and appreciation they deserve? The answers are many. Celebrate them on their anniversaries, but honor them on an ongoing basis as well. Consider an anniversary donation, remember them in your estate planning, join their boards of directors. Purchase individual or family memberships in the cultural institution of your choice. Give memberships as birthday or Christmas gifts to adults or young people who “have everything.” Honor their dedicated and talented professionals by actually reading the annual reports they write and be sure to attend the exhibits and special events they prepare for you throughout the year. Most importantly, bring your children.

Do not forget that over the years we have been able to help our brethren in Ukraine only because of a strong, nationally and culturally aware and educated diaspora community. Let us keep our cultural institutions in North America alive and well so we may better help ourselves and others.

One of the most memorable remarks of the recent 80th anniversary celebration of the Ukrainian Museum and Library of Stamford was uttered by Bishop Paul Chomnycky, who cited a museum curator: “Closing a museum to save money is like holding your breath to save oxygen.”

Let us recall what wonderful cultural institutions our parents and grandparents built for us, and under what difficult circumstances, just so we could breathe free and flourish. Let us make sure we don’t cut off that oxygen supply to our own children and grandchildren.

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