Behind the Scenes at the National Gallery of Ireland

Dr Marie Bourke, Keeper, Head of Education 

To celebrate 150 years of the Gallery, we will be introducing different members of the NGI team. We ask Dr Marie Bourke, Keeper & Head of Education, a few questions...

How long have you worked at the Gallery? A theatre director once described me as a ‘lifer’ because I have been here for a long time. After college, I taught in a third level institution, and spent a year working in US museums before the opportunity arose to work in the NGI.

What does your job entail? I describe my job as looking after the Gallery’s Public Programming outside of exhibitions. As the Gallery is open seven days a week and we provide services for all ages, it’s a fairly demanding, intense, but satisfying, job. I am also Secretary to the Gallery Board of Governors.

What is a typical day like for you? No typical day – each one is different and that’s what makes NGI fun and interesting!  It's all dependent on what meetings, appointments etc., are scheduled, research that needs to be done, presentations prepared, a chat in the corridor with colleagues, coffee with the team to catch up on stuff…

What did you study? History of Art and Archaeology though my PhD was in museum studies.

What is your favourite part of your job, or about working at the National Gallery? Interaction with the public; seeing them fulfilled by contemplating the collection, their satisfaction listening to a first class lecture, enjoyment at taking part in a Creative Art 55+ workshop, being creatively fulfilled at a drawing course, squeals of delight at the baby and toddler workshops, and the learning taking place on the family programme between parents and children. Then there is seeing people dating in the café, getting engaged beside ‘The Meeting on the Turret Stairs’ and married in No. 5 … how good does it get!

Can you describe a particularly memorable experience you’ve had at the Gallery? A visitor who participated in National Drawing Day in May said that she’d taken part in the drawing sessions, attended the noontime talk on George Bernard Shaw, listened to the musical trio over lunch, looked at her favourite Irish paintings, bought cards in the shop and was rushing for the train back to Belfast. She said it was the best day of her life.

What is your first memory of the National Gallery? As I recall, as a child I was brought by Sr. Robarts to the Gallery with 5th class Our Lady’s School Templeogue to see  in a long dark room Maclise’s huge painting ‘The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife’. We wore our winter uniform of camel coats, hats and navy kilts.

My advice to students hoping to work in the arts would be… travel, visit every gallery and museum, and look at as many works of art as you can. Gain experience in graduate internships, guiding, assisting in art festivals, talking to people. Push yourself to try out new experiences in the arts that you won't have time to later on.

What is on your cultural calendar for the upcoming year (apart from events in the Gallery)? A private view of the refurbished Imperial War Museum/IWM in London (NGI is part of the WWI commemoration project). A presentation that I am scheduled to give at the ICOM CECA Conference in Alexandria, Egypt and another a NODEM conference in Poland.

Which ONE art work/object/book would you take with you to a desert island? Frederic William Burton’s ‘The Aran fisherman’s Drowned Child’ because of the depth and richness of events taking place in the picture, a work which few are aware is a watercolour. It is a fascinating pre-Famine painting and a classic example of a ‘picture that tells a story’, which is about the Irish people, their history and heritage – it's not going to anywhere because its condition is fragile and it has to be kept in the correct environmental conditions! One of Ireland's finest decorative arts objects – it has to be the Tara Brooch [National Museum of Ireland]– for its relationship to the history of Ireland –  and I’d take a volume of poetry…

Everyone should visit the National Gallery of Ireland because… of the chance to be educated and inspired by its wonderful collections, events and activities.

Read previous Behind the Scenes with staff members

Behind the Scenes with Sean Rainbird, Director of the National Gallery

Behind the Scenes with Niamh Keaveney, CSIA Intern

Behind the Scenes with Shauna Sweeny, CSIA Intern

Behind the Scenes with Andrew Moore, Library Assistant

Behind the Scenes with Adriaan Waiboer, Curator of Northern European Art

Behind the Scenes with Caomhán Mac Con Iomaire, Education Assistant