The Order of Australia is a way the Australian government honors individuals who have contributed outstanding service to their field. Usually appointments are only conferred to Australian citizens, so the appointment of Dr. Smith as a member is both rare and highly esteemed.
Smith said, “This is a tremendous honor and, of course, reflects the efforts of many other people, foremost the Indigenous artists who have so generously shared their art and culture with us, the staff at Kluge-Ruhe and all of our colleagues internationally who have worked with us for many years.”
Dr. Margo Smith is a native of Staunton, Virginia. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from William and Mary and a Master of Arts and a Doctor of Philosophy in anthropology from the University of Virginia. She conducted fieldwork in central Australia from 1991-3 and first became involved with the Kluge-Ruhe Collection in 1995, when it was the private collection of John W. Kluge. After helping to facilitate the gift of the collection to U.Va., Dr. Smith co-edited the museum’s catalogue, Art From the Land: Dialogues with the Kluge-Ruhe Collection of Australian Aboriginal Art with Dr. Howard Morphy, which was published by the University of Virginia in 1999, the year the museum opened to the public.
Since 2003 Smith has taught various undergraduate courses at U.Va. on Aboriginal art and culture in the Anthropology and Art History departments. She has curated more than 60 exhibitions at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection, some of which have travelled in the USA and abroad. In 2006 she served as consulting curator on the exhibition Dreaming Their Way: Australian Aboriginal Women Painters at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She is serving on the curatorial team for an upcoming exhibition at the Musees de la Civilisation in Quebec City, Canada.
For the past sixteen years Smith has shepherded the Kluge-Ruhe Collection into its current thriving state. Going beyond the traditional role of a museum director or curator, she has advocated for Indigenous Australian people and has worked vigorously to promote Aboriginal art and culture in the United States.
The appointment of an Order of Australia medal begins with a nomination from a community member to the General Division of the Order. Once submitted, the Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat at Government House in Canberra conducts further research on nominees, and are also reviewed by the Council for the Order of Australia, which makes recommendations directly to the Governor-General. Dr. Smith will receive a gold-plated silver medal of the Order for her appointment, which is hung from the royal blue ribbon of the Order.
Jody Kielbasa, Vice Provost for the Arts at U.Va., explains “I am thrilled to learn that Margo has been recognized and honored for her significant work in promoting the work of aboriginal artists and their culture here in the United States and for her leadership and vision as the Director of the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection. The Kluge-Ruhe has thrived under her direction and we look forward to its future growth and expansion.”