Career Development

What Does a Curator Do?

Find out what a curator does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a curator.

Curators are responsible for the care and management of an institution’s collection of artifacts, artwork, or other objects. They work closely with conservators to ensure that these items are properly cared for and preserved over time.

Curators may also be responsible for developing and implementing new exhibits and programs at their institution. This might include researching topics, identifying potential artifacts or artwork to include in the exhibit, and working with designers and other staff members to plan out how everything will look when it’s on display.

Curator Job Duties

A curator typically has a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Writing exhibition proposals, reviewing artist submissions, and managing other aspects of art exhibition planning
  • Managing the collection of an institution’s art collection by researching artists, acquiring new pieces, and appraising existing works
  • Serving as a liaison between the museum or gallery staff and donors or other individuals or organizations interested in making contributions
  • Planning educational programming that is designed to engage audiences in the museum’s mission and objectives
  • Coordinating special events such as fundraisers or concerts that support the museum’s mission or exhibitions
  • Maintaining records of all artwork owned by a museum or gallery
  • Working with artists and other professionals to select artworks for exhibitions, as well as developing and implementing the marketing strategy for each show
  • Researching topics related to art history or culture and collecting information about artists and movements in order to create catalogs of exhibitions or write articles for publications such as museum brochures or newsletters
  • Overseeing the day-to-day operations of the museum or gallery and acting as an ambassador for the institution to the public at large

Curator Salary & Outlook

Curators’ salaries vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the size and type of museum they work for. They may also earn additional compensation in the form of bonuses or commissions.

  • Median Annual Salary: $55,000 ($26.44/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $121,000 ($58.17/hour)

The employment of curators is expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade.

Demand for museums and cultural institutions will continue to increase as more people visit these establishments. As the population grows and more people move to cities, there will be a greater demand for museums and cultural institutions in urban areas.

Related: In-Depth Curator Salary Guide

Curator Job Requirements

Curators typically need to have the following qualifications:

Education: Curators typically need a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as art history, art, history, English, anthropology or another discipline. Some curators choose to pursue a master’s degree in art history or museum studies to further their education and increase their employment opportunities.

To work in a museum, you may need a Ph.D. in art history or museum studies. These programs typically include coursework and a dissertation on a specific topic.

Training & Experience: Most curators will receive on-the-job training when they start a new position. This training will help the curator learn the museum’s policies and procedures, as well as the museum’s collection. The curator will also learn how to use the museum’s computer systems and databases.

Curators can also receive training through internships. An internship allows the curator to gain experience in a museum setting. The curator will learn how to organize and maintain a collection, as well as how to write exhibition labels.

Certifications & Licenses: Certifications can provide curators with additional qualifications and increased knowledge of specific aspects of their responsibilities.

Curator Skills

Curators need the following skills in order to be successful:

Research: Curators research topics and subjects to prepare for their exhibitions. They research the history of the artists, the inspiration behind the pieces and the materials used to create them. They also research the history of the pieces themselves, such as where they came from and how they were acquired. This research can help curators create a cohesive story for their exhibitions.

Communication: Curators often communicate with other museum staff, donors, volunteers and the public. They need to be able to communicate effectively in writing and verbally to convey ideas and information. They also need to be able to listen to others and respond to their questions or concerns.

Organization: Curators often use organization skills to keep track of their collections and ensure that their exhibitions are displayed in a logical order. They may also use organization skills to keep track of their files and records, which may include information about the artists they work with, the pieces they’ve acquired and the exhibitions they’ve hosted.

Time management: Curators often have to manage their time effectively to meet deadlines, complete tasks and attend meetings. This can include planning their work schedule and setting goals for completing projects. Time management can also include managing their team’s time, such as by making sure everyone has the resources they need to complete their work.

Curiosity: Curiosity is the desire to learn more about a topic. Curators often have a strong sense of curiosity because they are responsible for researching and learning about new topics. This can help them find new topics to research and develop a collection that is relevant and interesting to their audience.

Curator Work Environment

Curators typically work in museums, art galleries, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, historical sites, and parks. They may also work in corporate art collections, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. Curators typically work full time, and some may work more than 40 hours per week to meet deadlines or to coordinate with other museum staff. They may also travel to attend professional meetings, conferences, and workshops or to conduct research. Curators typically work in climate-controlled environments and do not have to do any heavy lifting. However, they may be required to do some light physical labor, such as moving boxes of artifacts or exhibits.

Curator Trends

Here are three trends influencing how curators work. Curators will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Growth of Digital Archives

The growth of digital archives is a trend that is quickly changing the museum industry. As more and more artifacts are digitized, curators will need to find new ways to showcase these items in order to keep visitors interested.

Curators can adapt to this trend by developing skills in digital archiving and by learning how to use technology to create engaging exhibits. They can also work with other members of the museum team, such as marketing and development professionals, to come up with new ways to showcase artifacts.

Museums Are Becoming More Interactive

Museums are becoming more interactive in order to attract a wider audience. This means that curators need to be able to develop creative and innovative displays that capture the attention of visitors.

In order to stay ahead of the curve, curators need to be able to think outside the box and come up with unique ideas for exhibits. They also need to be able to communicate effectively with other members of the museum team, such as designers and educators, in order to create a cohesive experience for visitors.

More Collaboration Between Museums and Universities

There has been an increasing trend towards collaboration between museums and universities in recent years. This is due to the fact that both institutions have a common goal: to educate the public about art and history.

As curators become more familiar with the needs of universities, they will be able to collaborate on projects that benefit both parties. This could include creating joint exhibitions, hosting lectures, or developing educational materials.

How to Become a Curator

A career as a curator can be incredibly rewarding. It offers the opportunity to work with a variety of art forms, from painting and sculpture to photography and video. You’ll also have the chance to meet and interact with artists and other creative people.

To become a curator, you need a degree in art history or museum studies. You should also have experience working in a museum or gallery setting. This can be gained by volunteering or interning at a museum or gallery.

Related: How to Write a Curator Resume

Advancement Prospects

Curators typically need a master’s degree in art history, history, archaeology, or museum studies, as well as several years of experience working in a museum. Some curators have a Ph.D.

Many curators start out as museum technicians or assistant curators. With experience, they may be promoted to associate curator, curator, senior curator, or chief curator. Some curators also become museum directors.

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