Chandler Museum wins Leadership in History Award for Japanese Internment Project

Aug. 17, 2018
origami cranes at the Chandler Museum

Chandler Museum has been presented with a Leadership in History Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) for its thought-provoking, multi-faceted 2017 project that explored the history of Japanese Internment during World War II at the Gila River Internment Camp, located a few miles south of Chandler.

The AASLH Leadership in History Awards, now in its 73rd year, is the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history. Chandler’s project, “Un-American: Engaging Our Community With the Story of Japanese Internment,” included a park kiosk, three exhibits, a community-driven art installation, and public presentations.

“The community’s response to this project was unprecedented,” says Jody Crago, Chandler Museum administrator. “The interactions we had with former internees and their families were extremely powerful. This project really established the Museum as a safe place for the community to come together to explore its cultural heritage including challenging topics. It is an honor to receive this national award for our work.”

This year, AASLH conferred forty-four national awards honoring people, projects, exhibits, and publications. The winners represent the best in the field and provide leadership for the future of state and local history. Chandler Museum will receive its award at a special banquet on Sept. 28, during the 2018 AASLH Annual Meeting in Kansas City, Missouri. The banquet is supported by a generous contribution from the History Channel.

There were several components to the project, which began with a permanent history kiosk at Nozomi Park. This kiosk, which tells the story of the Gila River Internment Camp, was financially supported by the National Park Service through the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program. Content was created with input from an advisory committee of subject specialists and cultural representatives, including the Japanese American Citizens League and the Gila River Indian Community. A mobile banner version of the kiosk was created to enable the interpretation to pop-up throughout the community.

The Chandler Museum also hosted the traveling exhibit, “Art of Survival: Enduring the Turmoil of Tule Lake.”  This exhibit explored the experiences and events at Tule Lake, a Japanese American camp in California where many prisoners from Arizona’s Gila River Internment Camp were transferred. The traveling exhibition used haunting images of artifacts to give a glimpse into the lives of those who were held at this unique WWII confinement site. Museum attendance skyrocketed during this exhibit, with people all over the state coming to see it. 

The most significant portion of the project was an in-house curated exhibit, “Un-American: Japanese Internment in Our Backyard,” which explored the question: “Who was more Un-American; those who looked like the enemy, or the government that incarcerated them?” Primary documents, historic photographs, three dimensional objects, and oral history excerpts showed how this challenging period in our country’s history unfolded from multiple perspectives. As a part of this exhibit, the Chandler Museum also spearheaded a community-engaging art installation that involved making, collecting and displaying 16,655 origami paper cranes – one for each person incarcerated at Gila River. 

Throughout all of this programming at the Chandler Museum, staff also delivered presentations throughout central Arizona on Japanese Internment.

In addition to the AASLH Leadership in History Award of Merit, this project also received the Museum Association of Arizona 2018 Institutional Award of Excellence.

Because the original exhibit was so popular and impactful, Chandler Museum staff continued to research the history of Japanese internment in Arizona during World War II and developed a new presentation. “Gaman: Enduring Japanese American Internment at Gila River,” will be the featured exhibit when the new Chandler Museum opens to the public on Dec. 8, 2018.

For more information, visit the website of the Chandler Museum.