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The award winners were announced at a gala event in Gisborne last night. All the winners were from the South Island.
Mr Smith, who has been at the gallery for more than 20 years, is the third director since it opened in 1983.
The section panel said it was delighted to recognise his work and also to see the Waitaki District Council was supporting the expansion of the Forrester, "which is a further endorsement of the benefits the gallery brings to Oamaru and its community".
In an interview last year to mark the gallery's 25th anniversary, Mr Smith said he still had a feeling of joy when he unpacked a new exhibition.
Also at that time, Oamaru artist Colin Wheeler said Mr Smith was responsible for making the gallery such a special place, while another North Otago artist, Burns Pollock, said his acumen, people skills, dedication and sincerity were "just monumental".
Fred and Myrtle's Paua Shell House at Canterbury Museum won the innovation award and the award for exhibition excellence was won by Nelson Provincial Museum.
In presenting the awards, former Museums Aotearoa chairwoman Priscilla Pitts said she was thrilled to see such excellent nominations.