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DIA Volunteer at Rivera Court
DIA Volunteer

Volunteer Award Winner:
Allison Smith

Staff Aides - March 2008

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) Staff Aides’ Committee has chosen Allison Smith as its 2008 Volunteer of the Year.

Staff Aides assist with a variety of projects in a number of departments throughout the museum.  Since last fall, Smith has volunteered three days a month in Conservation, which she deems “the ideal behind the scenes job.” Initially she inventoried and catalogued the Conservation library collection’s several hundred rare books.

Her current job is reviewing files for each painting that has come through Conservation.  This time consuming task requires that she examine the files, compare basic information with museum records (i.e. name, artist, and accession number), make necessary corrections, then create a new file.

These files date back to 1883. Smith has progressed to 1939, “almost to the end of the first file cabinet” said Alfred Ackerman, Head Conservator of Paintings.  Ackerman describes Smith as “meticulous,” a real asset in this file reviewing process.  He said Smith loves being behind the scenes and is excited about her work.  He credits her with developing a system to analyze the data in the files and then with creating a way to print appropriate labels for the new files.

Like so many volunteers, Smith had early experiences with the DIA.  She recalls annual visits to the museum as a student in Detroit schools. Several years ago she attended History of World Art presentations at the DIA. And, after speaking with someone already involved with the museum, she was prompted to contact DIA Volunteer Services.

Art is in her blood, but service is in her nature.  Although Smith claims no artistic talent, she grew up around art.  Her grandmother studied with famed local artist Mary Chase Stratton at Pewabic Pottery, in Detroit.  She finds one entry in her grandmother’s diary particularly interesting:  that Stratton “was impressed with my choice of glaze.” Her brother, Brad Smith, is a StoryBoard artist in the Detroit area.  

Smith is an RN at University of Michigan Medical Center.  For many years she enjoyed the critical care that she provided in the emergency room. But for the last 10 years she has continued to provide critical care in the more controlled environment of recovery.  Her 35-year nursing career has been diverse.  For several years she alternated hospital work with nursing on cruise ships. The advantage of travel to foreign ports came with the disadvantage of living on the job, therefore being on call 24 hours a day.  Some medical emergencies were easily managed, but others were life and death situations.  Her work on a ship that provided college students a semester at sea took her around the world in four months.

She is an avid traveler who has experienced Alaska, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Brazil, Sri Lanka, India, safari in Kenya, and recently Easter Island. This year she has two trips planned: one to Madrid and another to Madagascar.

Now an Ann Arbor resident, Smith has volunteered at the University of Michigan Museum of Art for 15 years doing just about any job that needs to be done from painting walls to conducting tours for children.

The Staff Aides Committee congratulates Allison Smith as Volunteer of the Year and thanks her for her service to the DIA.