How To Become A Curator
Career Video: Curator
Do you have a passion for art, history, or other valuable collectables? Does your passion lead to a desire to care and cultivate a particular collection? Are you interested in overseeing the aspects of collection care, acquisition, and funding for a museum, cultural center, or other archival institution? If you think that you have the enthusiasm and talents to maintain and grow a specific artistic, historical, or alternative collection, then you may seek out a career as a curator.
Why Become A Curator
A curator, otherwise known as a museum director, is responsible for the overall care and maintenance of a collection. Collections can consist of books, artwork, music, coins, plants, insects, and a variety of animals. Maintenance includes acquiring, storing, and displaying pieces of a collection, as well as providing upkeep and care. Generally, curators oversee the operations of care, delegating tasks to other professionals, such as archivists, technicians, and conservators. Their main duties are to operate the institution, select display themes, plan projects, supervise maintenance, and attend meetings.
Curators’ responsibilities are mostly administrative, as they research, locate, buy, and sell pieces to place in a collection. They may create and cultivate educational resources, such as pamphlets, workshops, and field trips. Being the director of operations, these individuals are also the representatives of institutions, providing information at conferences, fundraising events, and to the media.
Curator roles are dependent upon the size of the institution for which they work; for example, some may oversee the operations of an entire collection, while others may work with several other curators to provide specific aspects of maintenance. Regardless of their roles, curators’ talents must include the following:
- Attention to detail
- Executive traits
- Organizational skills
- Analytical expertise
- Interpersonal competence
- Ability to network
Curator Work Environment
The majority of curators, nearly 40 percent, typically work in museums, historical sites, libraries, and other institutions. Curators can also work for the government, preserving and maintaining valuable collections. Because many curators are interested in educating the public, in regards to their collections, they can also find work at universities and other private educational institutions. Other places of employment may consist of zoos, gardens, nature centers, and aquariums.
Work conditions for curators vary depending on place and type of employment. The majority of curators will work full time and some may work on weekends and holidays, especially if they work at zoos, gardens, aquariums, nature centers, or museums. Those who work for the government will most likely maintain regular business hours.
The working conditions of a museum curator vary with the specific objects or an area of the collection. Many curators may not work within a conventional museum setting; curators may find themselves within aquariums, historical sites, zoos, and botanical gardens. Depending on the project at hand, curators may be lifting heavy objects, rearranging collection materials, or climbing ladders. Curators typically work full-time and may travel extensively, depending on the exhibit, research, or objects needed for the collection. The work of a museum curator can be stressful depending on the situation, but it is a rewarding career, as you will be preserving history for our future generations.
Some curators, especially those who work for large, well-known institutions, may travel throughout the world to conduct business. Some curators work solely in an office, while others may work directly in the institution, providing reference and educational assistance to visitors.
The median annual salary for a curator in the United States is $51,280. Those working in educational services will most likely make the most money, followed by government curators and museum directors, respectively.
Curator Career Outlook
It is expected that employment for curators, in the U.S., will grow 8 percent from 2014 to 2024. While this is not a fast-growing occupation, it is typically a consistent one. Although funding for museums, libraries, and educational institutions may dwindle in difficult economic times, collections will always need curators to provide care. A variety of different people attend historical, artistic, and nature events, and these interests are not likely to change. Some specialties may be more popular than others.
To become a curator, an individual should have a graduate degree in a related field.
Step 1: Obtain an undergraduate degree. Some curator jobs may be accessible with a bachelor’s degree, depending on the size and location of the institution and collection. Degree options in art, history, art history, botany, science, anthropology, and natural history are excellent options. Business, marketing, and communications courses are recommended.
Many institutions look for curators with experience, and working as a volunteer or employee in such settings is an excellent way to understand the everyday operations of a relevant institution.
Step 2: Obtain a graduate degree. The majority of institutions will require their curators to have a master’s degree. Candidates for curator positions will most likely specialize in a particular field of study, such as 19th-century European Art or Southeast Asian texts. Specialties may help individuals become experts regarding certain collections, but they may also limit their employment outlook. It is important to be an expert, while acquiring a broad enough education to oversee many types of collections.
Step 3: Complete an internship program. Obtaining internship experience will propel candidates into employment. Some graduate programs offer them; however, it is possible to obtain a voluntary position through various institutions.