Jan. 24—LEWISTON — A new federal grant may help provide the boost needed to turn hopes of a new home for Museum L-A into reality.
The National Endowment for the Humanities this month selected the Lewiston-based nonprofit for a $500,000 challenge grant to help it move forward with plans for a new facility at the former Camden Yarns Mill property that includes the decaying remnants of an 1864 mill.
The federal grant requires the museum to round up $1.5 million in additional, new funding in order to collect the cash, which is tied for the highest total awarded nationwide in this round of humanities funding.
"This is our moment," museum Executive Director Rachel Ferrante said Tuesday.
The overall project was pegged at costing about $17 million several years ago. Ferrante said the nonprofit has rounded up nearly $6 million so far, including major commitments from Androscoggin County and the cities of Lewiston and Auburn.
Ferrante said the museum hopes to begin construction at the site it acquired in 2009 and to open its doors there in 2025.
Ferrante said the new facility, which aims to become a cultural landmark, will offer more space for both its permanent collection and rotating, temporary exhibitions, as well as a classroom that will open the door to longer group visits that can take advantage of opportunities unavailable in the current quarters at Bates Mill.
The goal, she said, is to "broaden and deepen" the engagement of visitors with places for a designer lab and maker space.
Ferrante said the nonprofit, which has been toiling on the project for at least 15 years, is going to be seeking more donations from "everywhere" in the months ahead as it tries to use the federal cachet to kickstart the project.
She said she is "really optimistic" that enough money will come in to make it possible to press forward and begin construction next year.
The federal grant, she said, "is really affirming" and will make it easier to round up additional funding.
Two other humanities grants are headed to Maine in addition to the museum's allocation from the $28 million funding round that aims to support 204 projects across the country.
The Quoddy Tides Foundation in Eastport got a $400,000 grant to help renovate a historic Masonic lodge in Eastport to use for exhibitions, programs and collections storage for the Tides Institute and Museum of Art, dedicated to the history and arts of northeastern Maine.
In addition, Kelly Brignac of Colby College was awarded $35,000 to cover research and writing costs for a project on slavery in the French empire during the abolitionist era.