Behind the Scenes at the National Gallery of Ireland

Sean Rainbird. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland. Photographer: Roy Hewson

To celebrate 150 years of the Gallery, we will be introducing different members of the NGI team every week. This week, we ask Director of the National Gallery, Sean Rainbird, a few questions...

How long have you worked at the Gallery? I have worked at the NGI for 20 months – not yet measured in years!

What is a typical day like for you? Full of meetings, but meant positively if the meetings bring people, information and discussion together, and lead to good decisions being taken. I also spend a lot of time representing the Gallery in some form, at events, in the department, at openings

What did you study? I studied art history and German. Around a decade ago I undertook a business administration course as a mature student

What is your favourite part of your job? The best part of the job is the staff here, all passionate about a fine institution and a great collection. We all know there is a strong emotional connection with the Gallery among our many visitors, which is vital for the health of the institution – a great strength really.

Can you describe an interesting or memorable experience you’ve had at the Gallery? Looking up to the newly glazed Dargan wing roof (the completed first phase of our current refurbishment) and trying to work out if the secondary glazing in the ceiling of the gallery would diffuse the bright sunlight sufficiently to stop it making dramatic patterns on the hanging walls. More art than science perhaps but a glimpse into the post-refurbishment stage we are now moving towards.

What is your first memory of the National Gallery? My first memory of the Gallery is getting lost in it, shortly after seeing the wonderful El Greco St Francis, and being highly confused by all the changes in level between the different wings.

My advice to students hoping to work in the arts would be… Stick with it, one job will have your name on it. There is a far greater freelance world nowadays, which presents opportunities outside institutions. The barriers between the commercial and non-commercial worlds are less evident than in earlier times. However, it is a hard slog through all the temporary contracts, internships and the like before feeling like you have arrived. But, as I said, stick with it and a surprising number of people have very interesting careers in the arts.

What is on your cultural calendar for the coming year (apart from events in the Gallery)? Art Fairs (TEFAF, Art Basel, Frieze Masterpiece…), exhibition openings, visiting colleagues, building our fundraising capacity. These will all feature during this year.

Which ONE art work/object/book would you take with you to a desert island? I need a big sack for this, but any Gallery with a Vermeer like ours would lose it to my desert island – sorry!

Everyone should visit the National Gallery of Ireland because… how you encounter art depends on your mood and feelings as much as your knowledge and passions. Art can absorb, comfort, distract, entertain – and the NGI is a wonderful place to find this out, again and again.