Donna Grubb

Donna Grubb is currently the head of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ Human Resources (HR) team. While responsible for ensuring that all people processes run smoothly, one of HR’s key roles is to support the Gallery in recruitment of the best people. The AGNSW is an employer of choice in the arts industry, and while they recruit only 20-30 people a year, they can receive 400 to 500 applications for a position. So the challenge they face is how to identify the employee who can best fit into the organisation from both skill and personality perspective, from a large prospective candidate pool.

Donna spoke to arts interview about the method of selecting the right fit for the organisation, whether there is such a thing as an ‘artistic personality’ and shared a few personal pieces of advice for developing a career in the arts.

Interview by Kim Goodwin

 Are there specific capability or competency types you look for? And do you recruit skills or look to develop them from within?

We have not really gone into competencies as such, as we have a broad range of roles, which are very different. What we look for in a gallery officer will be very different from what we look for in bookshop staff.

When looking at curators or conservators, we are looking for people who can communicate well, who can work well in teams, and those who are able to deal with a high workload. We do find some people that come in as assistant curators and move up, so they get that training ground. This is something we really support.

The Gallery has a lot of interns coming in and they sometimes move into a temporary assistant curator role. Sometimes, however, the gap is too big and we have to recruit externally, for example the Asian art area, where there is not a pool of people in Australia who we can rely on. In those cases we would look to international advertising and recruitment to fill some roles.

So what recruitment process do you use? Do you see value in psychometric testing?

We are just looking at psychometric testing now actually. We have not done it, but we think it could be beneficial, particularly when undertaking the bulk recruitment activity like with gallery officers. We are likely to be moving in this direction in areas where a lot of applicants have similar experience; you really need to be able to tell them apart.

Sometimes the person who comes in on the first day of work seems completely different from the person you have interviewed! It is about ensuring that we get the right people into the organisation.

How does recruiting for a cultural institution differ to corporate recruitment?

I have never worked in a for-profit, but I have worked in a lot of government organisations, and although everyone likes to think they are unique, there are a lot of similarities.

What is different, however, is that the gallery has a great feeling about it. I have been here for 10 years and it is such a lovely place to work. There is great morale and we are really successful. We are an employer of choice. For our corporate jobs a lot of people take pay cuts to work here, because we are an organisation a lot of people want to work for.

Do you think there is an ‘artistic personality’? Do you see any personality themes in your workplace?

Just thinking about our curators, they are all very different. From my point of view, I would not see that there is an artistic personality at all. I would say the organisation is influenced heavily by the temperament and disposition of the person leading it. Edmund Capon is a very strong leader and influences how managers and supervisors interact with staff – treating people with respect and dignity. I have been in other organisations where the CEO has been authoritarian and controlling and that flows through to how the staff treat each other.

What advice could you give to those starting out in the industry to be noticed (in a good way)?

The key comes down to experience; what experience you have. You have to be able to demonstrate that you have the runs on the board, have done particular research, and known in this area, or have worked in the space.

So my advice is do the internships, work in the galleries, volunteer. Get yourself known.

Interested in learning more about employment at the AGNSW:

Information on employment, internships or volunteering for the Gallery can be found via the website under “About Us” and “Employment and Tenders”. The Art Gallery only accepts applications for advertised positions.