Czech Republic: Arts and Social Change

Key Features

"Through experiential learning opportunities such as attending dance performances and art exhibits, discussing underground theater and literature with my professors, and casual conversations with my host-mom, I observed and experienced firsthand what my classes were teaching about Czech culture and history. The Independent Study Project allowed me to explore my topic of interest, mental health care, in the Czech cultural context--a very unique experience that has strongly shaped my future academic and career paths."

—Betsy Davis, Southwestern University

National Museum

Prague (program base)
Well known for its stunning architecture, this program brings students behind the Prague façade. Students attend cultural activities, festivals, and art shows, which are off the beaten track and represent an alternative and creative culture.

In Prague, students live with host families and take part in lectures and seminars on topics related to the arts and social change in the Czech Republic. Students enrolled in the arts studio course will conduct independent studio work during this period.

Students also participate in civic initiatives that draw upon the creative legacy of Czech underground culture. These could include Car-free Day and European Mobility Week or arts events that raise awareness of marginalized groups, such as the multicultural festival Colorful Planet and the Babi Leto festival at Prague's psychiatric clinic. Other cultural activities such as theater projects for refugees, contemporary dance, art, and photo exhibitions help broaden students' understanding of Czech history and contemporary life.

Choice of focus
Through the program’s foundation seminar, students examine contemporary arts in the Czech Republic as well as the role art played as an agent of social change throughout the country’s twentieth-century history. Students are then able to delve deeper into these themes through the continuation course or, alternatively, students can enroll in the program’s Arts Studio course, specifically customized for students of visual and performing arts and creative writing.

Educational excursions in different artistic and cultural contexts in central Europe
During the first month of the semester, students participate in educational excursions to rural Czech villages in Moravia or Bohemia to learn about the art culture and social reality beyond Prague. Students interact with local residents, community leaders, and artists involved in initiatives for cultural revival and community development. Later in the semester, students travel outside of the country to Slovakia, Poland, and either Germany or Austria, to conduct comparative studies of these neighboring countries' arts and civic initiatives.  Learn more about the program’s excursions.


Independent Study Project
During the final month of the semester, each student pursues an Independent Study Project (ISP). The project gives students a unique opportunity to critically examine a topic, situation, or community related to the arts or social change in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, or Poland.

Artists, civil society activists, professors, and specialists help students in the development and implementation of their ISP, which may include daily work with an organization or school or a creative component in visual arts, creative writing, or film.

Sample topic areas:

  • Roma identity in the Czech Republic
  • Slovak language laws and ethnic marginalization
  • Artists working outside the official realm under communism
  • Memories of Holocaust survivors
  • The experience of Czechs and Germans in post-war Sudetenland.

Creative projects have included:

  • Sculpture and ceramic vessels inspired by the Celts of Central Europe
  • A screenplay inspired by Czech absurdist literature
  • A graphic design project inspired by Czech cubist architecture
  • Creative non-fiction work and films drawing upon the social reality of life under communism

“The breadth and range of people and lecturers we were introduced to in the context of the thematic seminar was incredible – people in circles connected with the Velvet Revolution, people involved in incredible NGOs, people who were experts in their field…all willing to share their knowledge with us!”

—Program alum

Students attend a lecture at the Library of Prohibited Literature

Explore the Czech Republic's contemporary art scene and the role of art as a social change agent throughout the country's history. 

Students study the country's communist past, its post-socialist transition, and the new challenges facing artists and communities today as a result of globalization and tourism. Site visits to artists' studios and theaters, NGO offices, and community centers expose students to the country's beleaguered arts infrastructure as well as the initiatives in place to protect and promote the arts and social initiatives.

The program consists of three main components:

  • An eight-week homestay in Prague. During this period, students have lectures, participate in roundtable discussions with leading specialists in the arts and post-socialist society, visit NGOs and artist studios, and engage in the cultural life of Prague. This includes attending gallery openings and theater performances and joining Czech participants in visual arts, dance, and other arts classes.
  • Ten days of educational excursions in the Czech Republic, Poland, and central Slovakia. The program also includes an excursion to the former Sudetenland and Dresden, Germany.
  • A final four-week period during which students focus on an Independent Study Project (ISP).

Each facet of the program exposes students to different perspectives on the role and evolution of art throughout Central European history and the impact of post-socialism on the contemporary arts scene.

Costs Dates

Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Prague

Language Study: Czech

Prerequisites: For visual arts, photography, and dance studio work, background in the area of study is required. Students enrolling in creative writing must be majors or minors in writing. For all students, previous survey courses in European history or arts history are recommended, but not required. Read more...

View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)

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