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The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Art Museum Futures Fund recently awarded a $200,000 grant to the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at the University of Virginia to expand the promotion of Australian Indigenous art and culture, as well as to strengthen the leadership of indigenous peoples within the museum.

This Mellon Fund aims “to recognize visionary leadership, distinctive collections, and commitment to campus and community, and historically overlooked artists and stories,” according to the description of the Mellon Foundation grant. As the only museum in the United States dedicated to Aboriginal art, the Kluge-Ruhe Museum “performs a vital function”, writes the foundation.

When Kluge-Ruhe had to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, museum staff discovered that switching to remote working had unexpected benefits.

As museum staff reorganized the way they worked with Aboriginal artists and exhibited their contemporary art, the Museum open virtually to visitors and program participants from around the world, said Kluge-Ruhe director Margo Smith.

Lessons learned from working during the pandemic have influenced the museum’s strategic plan, encouraging staff to imagine becoming more inclusive in a sustainable way, Smith said.

“For the first time in Kluge-Ruhe’s history, the museum’s limited physical space and location in Charlottesville no longer impose limits on audience size and reach,” she said. . “We have also worked more extensively and more frequently with Indigenous artists, curators and consultants on long-term projects, allowing them to play a greater role in the development of exhibitions and programs.

Since its opening in 1999, the museum has hosted hundreds of Indigenous artists and scholars for tours and limited residencies. These shorter residencies provide a model for the possibility of deeper commitments and longer-term fellowships. Through the Mellon grant, Kluge-Ruhe will expand its work with Indigenous stakeholders throughout the museum, from collections management to programs to visioning for future growth.

For one of the next projects, for example, Kluge-Ruhe will start a tour exposure of bark paintings in collaboration with Australian curators, artists and indigenous knowledge holders from North East Arnhem Land.

Building on the network that Kluge-Ruhe staff members have developed over the past two decades, the museum is also inviting more Indigenous people to join its advisory board. The new board co-chairs are Jilda Andrews, a Yuwaalaraay (Aboriginal Australian) scholar and museum professional who resides in Canberra, and 1980 Business School alumnus James “Jimmy” G. Harris, who led the committee. of the museum’s strategic planning last year.

Harris recently retired from Accenture after a 35-year career and now dedicates his time to several nonprofits and small businesses. He also chaired Kluge-Ruhe’s digital engagement strategy committee in 2020.

Andrews is a research fellow at the Australian National University/National Museum of Australia. Her work focuses on cultural material held in museum collections.

“Our intention is to cultivate a strong and confident advisory body that is aligned with our values ​​and models what organizations can achieve through collaboration,” Andrews said. “The Next Chapter for Kluge-Ruhe recognizes that Indigenous voices are essential to the leadership and decision-making of the organization, ushering in a dynamic new era for our collections, our communities and our cultural future.