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Become A Curator

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Working As A Curator

  • Thinking Creatively
  • Judging the Qualities of Things, Services, or People
  • Getting Information
  • Communicating with Persons Outside Organization
  • Organizing, Planning, and Prioritizing Work
  • Mostly Sitting

  • $65,340

    Average Salary

What Does A Curator Do

Archivists appraise, process, catalog, and preserve permanent records and historically valuable documents. Curators oversee collections of artwork and historic items, and may conduct public service activities for an institution. Museum technicians and conservators prepare and restore objects and documents in museum collections and exhibits.

Duties

Archivists typically do the following:

  • Authenticate and appraise historical documents and archival materials
  • Preserve and maintain documents and objects
  • Create and manage system to maintain and preserve electronic records
  • Organize and classify archival records to make them easy to search through
  • Safeguard records by creating film and digital copies
  • Direct workers who help arrange, exhibit, and maintain collections
  • Set and administer policy guidelines concerning public access to materials
  • Provide help to users
  • Find and acquire new materials for their archives  

Curators, museum technicians, and conservators typically do the following:

  • Acquire, store, and exhibit collections
  • Select the theme and design of exhibits
  • Design, organize, and conduct tours and workshops for the public
  • Attend meetings and civic events to promote their institution
  • Clean objects such as ancient tools, coins, and statues
  • Direct and supervise curatorial, technical, and student staff
  • Plan and conduct special research projects

Archivists preserve documents and records for their importance or historical significance. They coordinate educational and public outreach programs, such as tours, workshops, lectures, and classes. They also may work with researchers on topics and items relevant to their collections.

Some archivists specialize in an era of history so they can have a better understanding of the records from that period.

Archivists typically work with specific forms of records, such as manuscripts, electronic records, websites, photographs, maps, motion pictures, and sound recordings.

Curators, also known as museum directors, direct the acquisition, storage, and exhibition of collections, including negotiating and authorizing the purchase, sale, exchange, and loan of collections. They may authenticate, evaluate, and categorize the specimens in a collection.

Curators often oversee and help conduct their institution’s research projects and related educational programs. They may represent their institution in the media, at public events, at conventions, and at professional conferences.

Some curators who work in large institutions may specialize in a particular field, such as botany, art, or history. For example, a large natural history museum might employ separate curators for its collections of birds, fish, insects, and mammals.

Some curators focus primarily on taking care of their collections, others on researching items in their collections, and still others spend most of their time performing administrative tasks. In small institutions with only one or a few curators, one curator may be responsible for a number of tasks, from taking care of collections to directing the affairs of the museum.

Museum technicians, commonly known as registrars or collections specialists, concentrate on the care and safeguarding of the objects in museum collections and exhibitions. They oversee the logistics of acquisitions, insurance policies, risk management, and loaning of objects to and from the museum for exhibition or research. They keep detailed records of the conditions and locations of the objects that are on display, in storage, or being transported to another museum. They also maintain and store any documentation associated with the objects.

Museum technicians also may answer questions from the public and help curators and outside scholars use the museum’s collections.

Conservators handle, preserve, treat, and keep records of works of art, artifacts, and specimens—work that may require substantial historical, scientific, and archeological research. They document their findings and treat items to minimize deterioration or to restore them to their original state. Conservators usually specialize in a particular material or group of objects, such as documents and books, paintings, decorative arts, textiles, metals, or architectural material.

Some conservators use x rays, chemical testing, microscopes, special lights, and other laboratory equipment and techniques to examine objects, determine their condition, and decide on the best way to preserve them. They also may participate in outreach programs, research topics in their specialty, and write articles for scholarly journals.

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How To Become A Curator

Most archivist, curator, and conservator positions require a master’s degree related to the position’s field. Museum technicians must have a bachelor’s degree. People often gain experience through an internship or by volunteering in archives and museums.

Education

Archivists. Archivists typically need a master’s degree in history, library science, archival science, political science, or public administration. Although many colleges and universities have history, library science, or other similar programs, only a few institutions offer master’s degrees in archival studies. Students may gain valuable archiving experience through volunteer or internship opportunities.

Curators. Curators typically need a master’s degree in art history, history, archaeology, or museum studies. Students with internship experience may have an advantage in the competitive job market.

In small museums, curator positions may be available to applicants with a bachelor’s degree. Because they also may have administrative and managerial responsibilities, courses in business administration, public relations, marketing, and fundraising are recommended.

Museum technicians. Museum technicians, commonly known as registrars, typically need a bachelor’s degree. Because few schools offer a bachelor’s degree in museum studies, it is common for registrars to obtain an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as art history, history, or archaeology. Some jobs may require candidates to have a master’s degree in museum studies. Museums may prefer candidates with knowledge of the museum’s specialty, training in museum studies, or previous experience working in museums.

Conservators. Conservators typically need a master’s degree in conservation or in a closely related field. Graduate programs last 2 to 4 years, the latter years of which include internship training. Only a few graduate programs in museum conservation techniques are offered in the United States. To qualify for entry into these programs, a student must have a background in chemistry, archaeology, studio art, or art history. Completing a conservation internship as an undergraduate can enhance admission prospects.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

At this time, only a few employers require or prefer certification for archivists. However, archivists may choose to earn voluntary certification because it allows them to demonstrate expertise in a particular area.

The Academy of Certified Archivists offers the Certified Archivist credential. To earn certification, candidates must have a master’s degree, have professional archival experience, and pass an exam. They must renew their certification periodically by retaking the exam or fulfilling continuing education credits.

Other Experience

To gain marketable experience, candidates may have to work part time, as an intern or as a volunteer, during or after completing their education. Substantial experience in collection management, research, exhibit design, or restoration, as well as database management skills, is necessary for full-time positions.

Advancement

Continuing education is available through meetings, conferences, and workshops sponsored by archival, historical, and museum associations. Some large organizations, such as the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC, offer in-house training.

Top museum positions are highly sought after and are competitive. Performing unique research and producing published work are important for advancement in large institutions. In addition, a doctoral degree may be needed for some advanced positions.

Museum workers employed in small institutions may have limited opportunities for promotion. They typically advance by transferring to a larger institution that has supervisory positions.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators need excellent analytical skills to determine the origin, history, and importance of many of the objects they work with.

Computer skills. Archivists and museum technicians should have good computer skills because they use and develop complex databases related to the materials they store and access. 

Customer-service skills. Archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators work with the general public on a regular basis. They must be courteous and friendly and be able to help users find materials.

Organizational skills. Archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators must be able to store and easily retrieve records and documents. They must also develop logical systems of storage for the public to use.

Technical skills. Many historical objects need to be analyzed and preserved. Conservators must use the appropriate chemicals and techniques to preserve different objects, such as documents, paintings, fabrics, and pottery.

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Curator jobs

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Curator Career Paths

Curator Demographics

Gender

Female

59.1%

Male

37.4%

Unknown

3.5%
Ethnicity

White

78.6%

Hispanic or Latino

9.9%

Asian

9.4%

Unknown

1.6%

Black or African American

0.6%
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Languages Spoken

Spanish

34.6%

French

22.4%

German

9.1%

Italian

8.3%

Chinese

5.1%

Portuguese

3.1%

Russian

2.8%

Mandarin

2.4%

Japanese

2.4%

Hebrew

2.0%

Korean

1.6%

Greek

1.6%

Indonesian

0.8%

Cantonese

0.8%

Polish

0.8%

Arabic

0.8%

Swedish

0.4%

Turkish

0.4%

Hmong

0.4%

Hindi

0.4%
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Curator Education

Schools

New York University

11.3%

Savannah College of Art and Design

7.7%

San Francisco State University

6.8%

University of Texas at Austin

6.3%

Johns Hopkins University

5.9%

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

5.4%

Michigan State University

5.4%

University of Southern California

5.4%

Harvard University

5.4%

Syracuse University

5.0%

University of Florida

4.5%

Wayne State University

3.6%

Columbia College Chicago

3.6%

University of Northern Iowa

3.6%

University of Washington

3.6%

New School

3.6%

City College of New York of the City University of New York

3.6%

Northwestern University

3.2%

Temple University

3.2%

University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

3.2%
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Majors

Fine Arts

30.8%

History

7.9%

Museum Studies

6.1%

Business

5.9%

Photography

5.7%

Graphic Design

5.4%

Communication

4.8%

Biology

4.4%

English

4.3%

Anthropology

4.1%

Journalism

3.2%

Psychology

2.7%

General Education, Specific Areas

2.1%

Education

2.0%

Area Studies

1.9%

Marketing

1.8%

Liberal Arts

1.7%

Writing

1.7%

Political Science

1.7%

Management

1.6%
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Degrees

Bachelors

41.8%

Masters

33.3%

Other

14.8%

Doctorate

4.5%

Associate

2.8%

Certificate

2.5%

Diploma

0.3%

License

0.1%
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Real Curator Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Chief Curator, Department of Architecture and Desi The Museum of Modern Art New York, NY Mar 01, 2015 $210,000 -
$220,000
Chief Curator The Frick Collection New York, NY Jan 02, 2014 $200,000
Senior Paintings Curator J. Paul Getty Trust Los Angeles, CA Dec 01, 2014 $195,000
Senior Curator Artnet Worldwide Corporation New York, NY Sep 10, 2013 $180,000
Curator, Contemporary Architecture The Museum of Modern Art New York, NY Nov 01, 2015 $166,960 -
$250,440
Curator, Contemporary Architecture, Department of Architecture and Design The Museum of Modern Art New York, NY May 04, 2015 $160,000
Curator, Contemporary Architecture The Museum of Modern Art New York, NY Jan 02, 2015 $150,000 -
$170,000
Curator The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, NY Dec 03, 2015 $148,526
Curator The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, NY Dec 02, 2013 $140,000
Senior Curator of Architecture The J. Paul Getty Trust Los Angeles, CA Nov 09, 2015 $140,000
Estrellita B. Brodsky Curator of Latin American AR The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, NY Aug 11, 2014 $130,000
Senior Paintings Curator J. Paul Getty Trust Los Angeles, CA Dec 01, 2014 $129,191 -
$219,613
Curator (Frieze New York Art Projects) Frieze Events Inc. New York, NY Sep 16, 2013 $111,675
Head Curator Savannah College of Art and Design, Inc. Savannah, GA Nov 17, 2014 $64,168 -
$80,500
Curator Thierry Goldberg LLC New York, NY Nov 15, 2013 $62,610
Content Curator Pro Unlimited New York, NY Sep 18, 2015 $62,400
Curator American Asset Corporation Companies, Ltd. New York, NY Jun 27, 2016 $62,000
Curator Athena Fine Arts Inc. New York, NY Sep 27, 2016 $61,901
Curators University of Alaska Fairbanks, AK Aug 16, 2013 $61,497
Gallery Curator Walter Wickiser Gallery, Inc. New York, NY Jul 13, 2015 $60,350
Curator Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation New York, NY Jul 01, 2013 $60,320
Curator W. Graham Arader III New York, NY Jan 31, 2014 $48,000
Curators Chalk & Vermilion Fine Arts, Inc. Greenwich, CT Sep 05, 2014 $47,611 -
$65,000
Curator Yoshii LLC New York, NY Dec 15, 2016 $47,563
Curator Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation New York, NY Aug 10, 2015 $46,500
Curator Richard Telles Fine Art Los Angeles, CA Jan 02, 2013 $46,018
Curator Lark Mason Associates Inc. New York, NY Sep 15, 2016 $45,914

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Top Skills for A Curator

LocalArtistsHistoricalResearchCo-CuratorWebsitePhotographyArtExhibitionPressReleasesFacebookExhibitionCatalogueSpecialEventsSuperviseCustomerServiceArtShowsSelectZooTwitterEducationalProgramsPermanentCollectionExhibitDesignPromotionalMaterials

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Top Curator Skills

  1. Local Artists
  2. Historical Research
  3. Co-Curator
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Research: Latest art trends, news, and upcoming local artists.
  • Managed both staff and interns within the curatorial department, focusing on educational development, historical research, and reorganization.
  • Originated the theme of the exhibition with co-curator Felicia Herrschaft.
  • Managed content on the website's official blog.
  • Curated exhibitions of photography, architecture, traveling exhibitions.

Top Curator Employers

Curator Videos

Career Advice on becoming an Associate Curator by Katie M (Full Version)

Career Advice on becoming a Curator Team Leader by Yasmin K (Full Version)

A Day in the Life - Museum Curator

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