MUSEUM L-A PARTNERSHIP
PUBLIC-HISTORY PARTNERSHIP WITH COMMUNITY MUSEUM IN LEWISTON-AUBURN, MAINE
Partner: Museum L-A (museumla.org)
Founded in 1996, Museum L-A is a grass-roots museum dedicated to the history of work and community in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine. Preserving, teaching, and honoring that history were important because it was disappearing. The industries around which the twin cities had grown up--textile-weaving in Lewiston, shoe-making in Auburn--experienced drastic declines in the late 20th century. For the Museum, telling the story of the past was a way of strengthening community in the here and now. In pursuit of these goals, it forged a strong partnership with Bates College. When I came to Bates in 2005 to lead the Harward Center for Community Partnerships, the museum's Executive Director, Rachel Desgrosseilliers, a remarkable civic leader and lifelong resident of Lewiston, quickly became a cherished partner and friend.
I describe elsewhere my largest project we undertook: "Weaving a World," a traveling exhibition about the social world of ethnic millworkers in Lewiston's textile mills. But this was only one part of a broader partnership. I served on the Museum's Board of Directors and took part in crafting its strategic plan. The Harward Center helped to organize and to staff millworkers' reunions that advanced the Museum's collecting and community outreach. These reunions also launched an oral history project in which Bates undergraduates interviewed more than a hundred retired millworkers. The student interviews, along with others done by a professional oral historian, became a crucial archive for "Weaving a World" and other exhibitions.
Bates students who took my seminar, "History In the Public Sphere" (syllabi, 2006, 2008), volunteered through the Harward Center, or received summer internships, supported Museum L-A in a variety of roles. They served as docents; they helped to organize and document the holdings that community members gifted to the Museum; they worked on special projects such as the development of a historical walking tour.
For one student in particular, the Museum L-A partnership proved life-changing. Mike Wilson was a prospective math major with a love of story-telling when he did one of the millworker oral histories in an Anthropology class. Excited by the experience, he took my public-history seminar, contributing to the archival research on which "Weaving a World" was based; and then he switched his concentration to American Studies. For his Honors Thesis, Mike produced a historical study of Museum L-A, contextualizing its evolution within the broader movement for civic engagement in American museums. After graduating, Mike held an Americorps position in a service-learning center at a nearby university. He went on to earn a master's in applied theater and now does story-telling and performance work in New York.
Return to Past Projects.