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LEWISTON - Museum L-A recently received word that its exhibit Rivers of Immigration: Peoples of the Androscoggin was selected as a 2011 Award of Merit winner by the Leadership in History awards committee of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH). Rachel Desgrosseilliers, Museum L-A's executive director, will accept the award on behalf of the museum at the organization's annual meeting in September. "The Leadership in History Awards is AASLH's highest distinction and the winners represent the best in the field," said Terry Davis, AASLH President & CEO.

"Receiving this prestigious award is, indeed, an honor and demonstrates the exemplary nature of Museum L-A's programs," noted Stephanie Upton, former executive director of the Orchard House/Home of the Alcotts in Concord, Mass and a Museum L-A board member. "AASLH is the leading national organization for history museums, and the competition for awards is keen among both small and large museums in the country. As a 20-plus year member of AASLH, I knew that Rivers of Immigration was a powerful exhibit, but to have it win this honor - wow! - it really shows the ability of the staff to be 'cutting edge' in today's competitive museum environment!"

Consultant Elaine Carmichael of Economic Stewardship, Inc. concurs, "Receiving this award would be a feather in the cap of any museum, but it's a real honor for a young institution like Museum L-A. Moreover, it's excellent outside confirmation that Museum L-A's approach is both innovative and effective, thus meriting attention and respect from museum professionals."

Through personal stories, photographs and interactive components, the exhibit explored the history of immigration in Lewiston-Auburn from the mid 1800s to the present. Museum L-A collaborated with Catherine Bestemen of Colby College and Anne Kemper of Lewiston Adult Education for the exhibit. Representatives of the Somali community were members of the exhibit planning committee.

The impetus of Rivers of Immigration was Besteman's proposal to show her exhibit, The Somali-Bantu Experience: From East Africa to Maine at the Museum in early 2009. "Although the Somali-Bantu Experience exhibit was excellent, we felt that the Museum could participate only under the bigger umbrella of Immigration using a timeline showing how important immigrants have always been to our community," said Desgrosseilliers. Decades had passed since people from many countries arrived to work in the now-defunct textile mills and shoe factories. It was clear that this long-forgotten story of needed to be dusted off and new stories of immigration needed to be shared. Thus, the creation of the Rivers of Immigration: Peoples of the Androscoggin - an exhibit not originally planned but deemed to be of utmost necessity for the community.

Along with Besteman and Bates College cultural studies professor Elizabeth Eames, this collaboration included students in Kemper's in Lewiston Adult Education's English Language Learner (ELL) Program contributing 28 first-person accounts of immigrants from Peru, Africa, China and more.

"We knew we had an amazing exhibit when we applied for the award, however, these awards usually go to long and well-established museums." Desgrosseilliers said. "We were hopeful when we were told that we had passed the regional panel with high marks. We were ecstatic when we were told that we won in the Community Engagement category in the nationals. This is great for our community."

Rivers of Immigration ran from Oct. 24, 2009 through August 2010. Elements of the exhibit, including an enhanced, interactive Timeline are being installed in the museum's second-floor gallery space. The museum encourages community members to bring in their own photographs and personal stories of immigration to add to the exhibit.