Sometimes Culture Is Preserved In Overlooked Nooks And Crannies

If you have ever doubted the contributions niche artistic & cultural practices can make to greater society, read check out this story on the BBC site recounting how puppetry helped preserve the Czech language.

…intellectuals, who had initially resisted the German language, followed suit. Even Czech actors began to perform in German as an official mandate.


[wood carvers]…started making puppets for the actors of Bohemia soon after Ferdinand II came to power, as puppets were the only remaining entities that had the right to speak Czech in public places. While the rest of the country and its people adhered to the newly imposed German language, wandering actors and puppet-masters spoke through the puppets in their native Slavic tongue.

It might seem unlikely that a few hundred puppets and puppet-masters could safeguard a language, especially through a loophole, but the people’s last remaining legacy to their past was tied to the puppet’s strings.

It’s easy to see why these marionettes have found a home in Czech hearts, and why the magic of puppets continues to permeate the city.

It is often the case that a dominant culture tries to undermine, perhaps with the intent of forced assimilation,  the identity of other cultures by outlawing popular practices. Occasionally niche cultural practices are tolerated because they are not taken seriously or because they don’t appear to have broad impact.

Something similar happened in Hawaii (as well as other places, I am sure), where there was a strong bias against speaking the language and close to an outright prohibition against hula, with which chant is inexorably bound. It was only due to individuals performing and practicing in private that cultural practices were preserved until public practice was allowed. Even still, a lot had been lost and is still in the process of being reinvigorated in the shadow of influential pop culture.

Indeed, currently reclaiming and participating in traditional practice is increasingly valued. Some of it is certainly motivated by the prestige of being associated with “bespoke” craftsmanship. But that desire drives a demand for people to actually master the skills to produce quality sought after goods, services and experiences.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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