Curators create engaging and informative exhibits for archives and cultural institutions.
Do you enjoy bringing together materials and people to create learning experiences? Then, you may want to seek employment as a curator.
This job description explains the general duties involved in this position. This includes also specialized training that may be required, major employers, and projections for the growth of this field.
What Is a Curator?
Curators administer collections of artwork or items of historical or scientific significance.
These professionals may work for the following:
- historical sites
- or other cultural institutions or organizations.
Curators may divide their time between planning exhibitions and prepare grant proposals, institutional reports, or promotional materials.
Their regular responsibilities can involve the following:
- arranging for the relocation of selected items
- preparation of exhibition areas
Some curators lead guided tours or presentations and participate in public outreach or service.
A number of curators have advanced academic training and pursue research or preserve items in collections.
The majority of curators hold doctorates or master's degrees in relevant fields. These fields include information and library sciences, museum studies, or a specific subject such as history.
Coursework in these areas prepares aspiring curators to make informed choices about which items to include in collections or exhibitions and necessary storage and presentation specifications.
The type of institution and specific job title impact the requirements for each curator position.
A range of job titles performs curatorial work.
Job seekers may want to search for these:
- openings for archivists
- collections curators or managers
- educational or museum curators
- exhibition curators
- gallery directors, or
- museum technicians
The specific requirements set forth in a job description may vary based on whether the employer is an academic archive, museum, library, or a public or private organization.
What Do Curators Do?
- Curators are responsible for acquiring and organizing materials for public or private display in archives, historical sites, museums, and other cultural institutions.
- Some curators engage in academic study or research of items of historical or scientific significance. Others promote public engagement to drive up visitor numbers.
Regardless of whether a curator performs research or strictly presents and promotes collections, working curators frequently rely on database or query software and other technology to access and maintain records and digitize documents or items.
Many curatorial positions require candidates to engage in fundraising and write grants to underwrite exhibitions.
These positions call for the organizational and planning skills necessary to schedule, conduct, and conclude exhibits.
Curators may showcase items from an archive or museum or arrange for loaned content.
These employees may also:
- fill managerial roles
- overseeing designers
- fiscal planners
- staff members
- work with interns or volunteers
Curator positions combine administrative responsibilities with education, promotion, and research in order to develop and display successful exhibitions.
If you are considering seeking employment in this field, carefully read the description of each position and make sure that you are prepared to fulfill the stated responsibilities before submitting your application.
Candidates with experience or training in conservation, education, or a subject area may be able to apply to related positions and sharpen other specialized skills on the job.
How Do You Train to Become a Curator?
According to occupational data, most curators hold doctoral degrees. Fewer hold terminal master's degrees.
But, almost all curators at least have a bachelor's degree. Archival, library and information science are common areas of study, as is museum studies.
Curators may also pursue graduate-level studies. Studies include art history, archeology, history and museum studies. One may also have a specialized area of study in a foreign language and culture.
The best way to train to become a curator is to pursue degrees in relevant disciplines. Or, one would become an expert in a specific area of knowledge.
You should also try to volunteer. Or, work as an intern for an archive, collection, or historical site during your education.
Even if you do not work for the same institution after graduation, this experience will be valuable as you seek more permanent employment.
Keep in mind that any position funded by a grant is usually offered on a relatively short-term contract basis, but it may be renewable.
A specialization in curation or information science on the undergraduate level can be a good place to start.
Regardless of your major area of study, many schools offer certificates in museum studies. This could be an addition to formal academic degrees.
Some of these programs are available online or as distance-learning or extension courses.
These certificates enable students or working professional to gain the concentrated skills necessary to succeed as a curator.
You may want to pursue graduate-level training in conservation, library and information science, or museum studies with a secondary focus on a particular subject. Conservator and museum technician positions often require specialized technical training.
By focusing on curation and preservation, you can gain a more useful background in keeping detailed records. And also, in the scientific or technical aspects of preservation such as chemistry and light design.
Whether you decide to study curation as your primary or secondary area of focus, you should be able to show your ability to perform certain tasks to prospective employers.
Applicants for curator positions should show their ability to perform research and write grants. And, prepare scholarly publications as well as promotional materials.
These skills will enable a candidate to succeed in most curatorial roles.
Professional Resources for Curators
There are a number of professional resources for different types of curators. Curators who want to work with art may want to consider joining the Association of Art Museum Curators.
This group awards excellence in this subfield. It also hosts a national annual conference in addition to regional conversations and webinars.
Pursue professional development through this association's mentorship program and lists of open positions.
Depending on your specialization, you may also be able to find groups with broader memberships and narrower foci. An example is the International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art.
Candidates seeking employment in museums may want to access the resources made available by the American Alliance of Museums.
This group has an advocacy subgroup called the Curators Committee that focuses on this particular role in the museum field.
This service provides professional advice and networking services and also posts job openings.
The UK-based Museums Association is an international resource. It maintains job listings and professional development resources for curators and conservation professionals.
Independent Curators International supports curatorial work beyond the institutional frameworks of museums, government locations, or academic institutions.
Who Hires Curators?
Historical sites, museums, and similar institutions employ up to 41 percent of curators. The U.S. Government employs 25 percent of all curators.
Approximately 19 percent work for local, state, or private educational institutions.
Some employers require or prefer that candidates for curator positions hold certifications or licenses in their area of focus or recognize membership in relevant professional organizations.
The Academy of Certified Archivists offers a Certified Archivist credential based on education, experience, and performance on an exam.
Certified Archivists must retake this exam on a regular basis to maintain certification.
Candidates interested in conservation may want to view the resources available through the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
The AIC offers guidance to aspiring conservators about college- and graduate-level training for this career track as well as guidance on post-graduate positions and continued education and professional development.
This organization holds an annual meeting for mutual education, promotes the exchange of ideas and research, and supports professional networking.
How Many Positions Are Available?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of positions in this field to grow faster than average.
As of 2016, approximately 31,000 related positions existed, with 1,500 new positions expected to be created by 2026.
Approximately 12,400 curator positions exist, along with roughly 11,800 museum technician and conservator positions and 6,800 archivist positions.
If you are interested in curating collections or working as an archivist, conservator, or museum technician, you should make sure that you have the educational background and are interested in creating entertaining and informative exhibits.
Curators generally work during regular business hours, though their environment may vary between an office, archives or libraries, and exhibition spaces.
Depending on the type of institution and position, curators may need to work on some evenings or weekends.
A number of cultural institutions are open to the public during these higher traffic times.
Institutions with many staff members, interns, and volunteers may shift the responsibility for presenting an exhibit. But, curators often attend exhibit openings to introduce new collections to museum patrons, members, or sponsors.
If you plan to pursue a career in curation, you should seek academic and professional training. Gain experience by applying for internships or volunteering at relevant institutions.
Consider whether you want to specialize primarily in methods of curation and preservation or a specific academic or cultural field.
Either way, you can obtain the knowledge and experience necessary to succeed as a curator from classes offered on the undergraduate or graduate level at colleges and universities