Career Development

What Does a Museum Curator Do?

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

Museum curators are responsible for the care and management of a museum’s collection. They work closely with other staff to ensure that artifacts, artwork, specimens, etc. are properly stored, maintained, and displayed.

Curators may also be involved in research related to their institution’s holdings. This might include studying an object’s history or origins, determining its authenticity, or identifying how it fits into the larger context of the museum’s mission.

Museum Curator Job Duties

Museum curators typically have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Planning and organizing events and exhibitions that attract large audiences to increase awareness of the museum’s mission
  • Establishing relationships with donors to encourage them to support the museum financially
  • Coordinating with other departments within the museum to ensure that all departments are working together efficiently
  • Conducting research on topics related to the museum’s collection or exhibitions, including interviewing experts in the field
  • Overseeing the acquisition of new artifacts for the collection through donations from individuals or corporations
  • Researching, documenting, preserving, and exhibiting items in the collection
  • Conducting educational outreach programs to promote awareness of the collection to the general public
  • Assessing the condition of artifacts to determine if they need to be repaired or restored before they can be displayed
  • Developing educational programs for children and adults to help them understand the significance of different cultural artifacts or historical events

Museum Curator Salary & Outlook

Museum curators’ salaries vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the size and location of the museum. They may also earn additional compensation in the form of bonuses or commissions.

  • Median Annual Salary: $58,000 ($27.88/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $115,000 ($55.29/hour)

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

As museums continue to digitize their collections, curators will be needed to organize and maintain these digital records. In addition, as more museums collaborate with each other, curators will be needed to organize traveling exhibits that showcase artifacts from different institutions.

Museum Curator Job Requirements

A museum curator typically has the following qualifications:

Education: Most employers require curators to have a master’s degree in a related field, such as art history, anthropology or archeology. Some employers prefer candidates who have a Ph.D. in art history or a related field.

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Training & Experience: Most museums have their own training programs for curators. These programs may be part of a master’s degree program or a certificate program. They may also be part of an apprenticeship program. Museum curators may also receive on-the-job training in entry-level positions.

Certifications & Licenses: While certifications are not often required for museum curator roles, they can be useful for candidates applying for positions in competitive job markets.

Museum Curator Skills

Museum curators need the following skills in order to be successful:

Communication: Museums often have a variety of audiences, including donors, volunteers, school groups and the general public. Museum curators need to be able to communicate effectively with all of these groups. This includes the ability to write and speak clearly, as well as the ability to listen and respond to questions and concerns.

Organization: Museum curators often work with large collections of artifacts and specimens, which requires them to be skilled in organization. They may be responsible for maintaining the collection, which requires them to keep track of the location of each item and ensure that the collection is complete. They may also be responsible for creating and maintaining databases of information about the collection.

Research: Museums often have collections of artifacts that date back hundreds or thousands of years. As a curator, you might be responsible for researching the history of each artifact in a collection. This research can help you determine how to display the artifacts and what information to include with them.

Problem-solving: Museums often have a variety of artifacts and specimens that may be from different time periods or regions. As a curator, you may be responsible for organizing and displaying these items in a way that makes sense to the visitor. Problem-solving skills can help you find creative solutions to display challenges, such as when an item is too large for a certain space or when you need to combine two or more displays to make room for a new acquisition.

Public speaking: Public speaking is a necessary skill for a museum curator, as they often give tours of the museum and speak to groups of visitors about the history of the collection. They also may give presentations about the collection to other groups, such as school groups or community organizations.

Museum Curator Work Environment

Museum curators typically work in museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and historical sites. They may also work in corporate art collections, art galleries, and government agencies. Curators typically work during regular business hours, but they may also work evenings and weekends to accommodate the schedules of donors, volunteers, and the public. They may also travel to attend professional meetings, conferences, and seminars and to visit other museums.

Museum Curator Trends

Here are three trends influencing how museum curators work. Museum 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 Museums

The growth of digital museums is a trend that is quickly changing the museum industry. As more and more people turn to the internet for information, museums are beginning to shift their focus towards creating digital experiences that allow visitors to learn about history and culture in an interactive way.

Museum curators can capitalize on this trend by developing expertise in digital media production and learning how to use technology to create engaging exhibits. They can also work with other members of the museum team to develop new ways to engage visitors and keep them coming back for more.

More Collaboration Between Museums and Universities

There is a growing trend of collaboration between museums and universities, which is leading to a greater exchange of ideas and resources. This is particularly evident in the area of research, where universities are increasingly partnering with museums to conduct archaeological digs and study artifacts.

As this trend continues to grow, museum curators will need to be able to work effectively with university researchers in order to get the most out of these partnerships. They will also need to be able to communicate the value of the museum’s collection to university administrators in order to ensure that it is properly cared for.

A Greater Focus on Diversity

Museums are beginning to place a greater emphasis on diversity as they strive to reflect the communities they serve. This means that curators will need to be aware of the different cultures and backgrounds represented in their collections.

In addition, museums are starting to collaborate with one another in order to share resources and collections. This trend will only continue to grow in the future, which means that curators will need to be prepared to work with colleagues from around the world.

How to Become a Museum Curator

A career as a museum curator can be incredibly rewarding. It offers the opportunity to work with a variety of objects and artifacts, to research their histories, and to share that knowledge with the public. However, before embarking on this career path, it’s important to consider what type of museum you want to work for. Some museums specialize in certain types of objects or artifacts, while others have a more general focus. Additionally, some museums are small and local, while others are large and national or international in scope.

No matter which type of museum you choose, it’s important to have a strong background in art history and archaeology. You should also have a solid understanding of the conservation process and be able to identify and describe different types of objects and artifacts.

Advancement Prospects

Curators typically need a master’s degree or Ph.D. in history, art history, archaeology, anthropology, or a related field, as well as several years of experience working in a museum. Some curators begin their careers as museum technicians or assistants and then move up to curator positions.

Many curators start out in entry-level jobs, such as assistant curator, education coordinator, or registrar, and then move up to curator positions. Some curators eventually become museum directors. Others may move into teaching or research positions in colleges or universities. Some may open their own consulting businesses.

Museum Curator Job Description Example

The [Museum] is looking for an experienced professional to join our team as Curator. In this role, you will be responsible for the development and management of the museum’s collections. This will include acquiring new pieces, conducting research, and writing proposals for exhibitions. You will also be responsible for supervising a team of curatorial assistants and interns. The ideal candidate will have a passion for art and history, as well as experience working in a museum setting. They will also be an excellent communicator, with the ability to develop and maintain relationships with donors and other museums.

Duties & Responsibilities

  • Serve as the primary caretaker of the museum’s collections, ensuring their safety, security, and proper storage
  • Research and acquire new pieces for the collection, in accordance with the museum’s budget and areas of focus
  • Work with other curators to develop exhibitions, both temporary and permanent, that will engage and educate the public
  • Write and edit didactic materials, such as labels and wall texts, to accompany exhibitions
  • Give tours of exhibitions to school groups, VIPs, and other visitors
  • Serve on selection committees for acquisitions and fellowships
  • Develop and teach classes and workshops related to the museum’s collections and exhibitions
  • Write articles, books, and other publications about the museum’s collections and exhibitions
  • Stay up-to-date on developments in the field of museology through professional development opportunities and networking
  • Manage a team of interns and support staff, delegating tasks and providing guidance as needed
  • Prepare reports for the board of trustees and upper management
  • Participate in fundraising efforts to support the museum’s operations and acquisitions

Required Skills and Qualifications

  • Master’s degree in art history, museum studies, or related field
  • 5+ years professional experience working in a museum
  • Demonstrated expertise in a specific area of art or history
  • Proven track record of successfully acquiring and caring for museum collections
  • Strong organizational, research, and writing skills
  • Excellent communication and presentation skills

Preferred Skills and Qualifications

  • PhD in art history or related field
  • 10+ years professional experience working in a museum
  • Experience developing and implementing educational programs
  • Familiarity with grant writing and fundraising
  • Bilingualism

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