5 Curator Skills to Develop (And How to Improve Them)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Curators at museums and private collections are highly educated professionals with extensive knowledge and skills related to art, history and conservation. These can include technical knowledge related to a specific field within a museum and soft skills that help curators manage their workflow. If you're interested in a career as a curator, it's useful to understand some top skills in this field. In this article, we review some of the top skills you can have as a curator and discuss how to apply them in the workplace.

Related: What Does a Curator Do: Duties, Essential Skills and Salary

What are curator skills?

Curator skills are all the abilities that curators use to research, compile and present artworks and artefacts in exhibits. When curators create an exhibition, they use extensive knowledge in specific subject areas to thoughtfully select historical relics, paintings, sculptures and other works that represent a certain theme. Their organisational, technical and interpersonal skills allow them to collaborate with other museums, private collectors and historians to gather the pieces and prepare them for public display.

5 examples of curator skills

Here are some of the top skills curators use to complete their daily duties:

1. Research

Curators use research skills consistently when planning upcoming exhibitions. Most curators are experts in a particular type of art, history or other subjects, which involves being able to read and analyse extensive amounts of information on that topic. Your research skills can help you locate artworks, identify their origins and learn more about the historical context of each work. You also use research skills to verify the information you include in exhibit catalogues and artwork labels.

2. Writing

Curators use writing skills in many stages of developing an exhibition, from planning their ideas to developing the final description for each object. To make the artwork and objects in an exhibition accessible to the public, curators prepare labels that describe each item. When creating these labels, you use advanced writing skills to synthesise complex historical, theoretical and artistic concepts into simple descriptions that the average person can understand. Curators also use their writing skills when preparing information for exhibit catalogues, writing articles for their area of expertise, creating acquisition requests and preparing project briefs.

3. Negotiation

Being able to negotiate helps curators secure all the items they want for each upcoming exhibit and arrange for other details of their projects. Acquiring artworks and other objects for an exhibit often involves setting up a purchase, a loan or even a trade with another institution. Curators negotiate to determine agreeable terms for acquiring an object, including the length of time they can keep the object in their collection, the physical storage conditions for keeping the object safe and any copyright and ownership details.

4. Collaboration

Creating a successful exhibit involves collaborating with many museum professionals. This involves the ability to listen, communicate and stay organised while working on multiple projects for the same exhibit. Curators may work with professionals in the development department to determine the budget for a project and develop fundraising initiatives for each exhibit. They also work with educators who may want to use museum content to teach students about history, culture, religion and other concepts. During the launch of the exhibit, curators collaborate with marketers and members of the press to generate excitement for and interest in their upcoming collection.

5. Management

Curators typically manage entire teams when planning their exhibits. They may oversee interns, researchers and gallery designers who all work together on the same project. Because the curator plans the vision of the exhibit, they delegate tasks, coordinate timelines and solve problems for their team. They also ensure that their team members achieve each major milestone for their exhibit related to acquiring objects, managing their collection and setting up the actual exhibition space. You also use your management skills as a curator by establishing guidelines, rules and procedures for interacting with artworks and completing key tasks for the project.

How to improve your skills as a curator

Use these steps as a guide to enhance the knowledge and abilities you use while working in a curatorial position:

1. Attend conferences for museum professionals

There are many conferences, seminars and other events that museum professionals can attend to enhance their professional knowledge. Going to events for museum professionals is a great way to learn new curatorial techniques, discuss methodologies with your colleagues and discover advancements within the museum industry. You can sign up for conferences exclusively for curators or look for general industry events where you can attend panel discussions or listen to speeches from experts in your field.

2. Read books and articles

Part of being a successful curator is being aware of recent developments in art and history. Reading recent publications can help you learn about ongoing discussions and discoveries in your field. By subscribing to journals or newsletters related to art history or other museum specialities, you may learn about upcoming auctions, new contemporary artists in your area or conservation techniques. You can also use articles and books as inspiration for exhibits.

3. Incorporate public feedback

To apply your curation skills productively, it's important to create exhibits that are interesting and educational to members of the public. Listening to feedback from visitors and applying that advice to future exhibits can help you improve as a curator. By setting up methods to gather input from exhibit guests, such as surveys, you can learn about what they liked and how you can change future exhibits to be more engaging or inclusive.

4. Visit other museums and collections

Viewing exhibits from other curators can provide you with ideas on how to enhance your own work. By visiting other museums, you can gain inspiration for better ways to write labels for artwork or create layouts for a future show. Exploring local museums or even browsing online collections of other museums can help you refine your curation strategies.

Related: A Guide on How to Become a Museum Curator (With FAQs)

Curation skills in the workplace

Here are a few tips for using your skills in the workplace when working as a curator:

  • Review past exhibits: It's useful to study the types of exhibits a museum displayed in the past to learn about popular themes and determine what kinds of artworks and artefacts are most engaging to that museum's visitors.

  • Study the museum's collection: Learning about your museum's permanent collection can help you quickly generate ideas for exhibits without having to arrange complex art purchases or loans from other institutions.

  • Interact with other departments: Be proactive about communicating with museum professionals in the conservation, education, development and marketing departments to create the most impactful and relevant exhibits for your community.

  • Plan ahead: Creating an exhibition is often an extensive process, so it's a good idea to start brainstorming future exhibits in advance.

Related: 8 Types of Job Skills That Are Important for Career Success

Highlighting curation skills

Use these tips to highlight your skills at each stage of the application process when looking for job opportunities as a curator:

Curation skills for your resume

To secure a position as a curator, it's useful to highlight your top skills on your resume. Because education and training are important for curators, emphasising your educational qualifications is a good way to demonstrate your skills. Try including details about your education, such as the subject of your dissertation or any art history classes that relate to your speciality within the curatorial field. If you wrote any articles related to art, history or museum education, consider creating a section summarising your publications. This can highlight your expertise and show that you have the background knowledge to create educational exhibits.

Curation skills for your cover letter

When writing your cover letter, focus on the ways you applied your skills as a curator throughout your previous education and work experience. Try reviewing the job listing for the museum or gallery you want to join and identify the top skills your employer is seeking. Think about how you used those skills to create a positive impact for previous employers. You can also discuss how your skills influenced your academic success and explain how you can apply those same skills to your research projects as a curator.

Curation skills for the job interview

During an interview for a job as a curator, you can impress the hiring manager with your aptitude for interpersonal communication. Curators regularly interact with a variety of other museum professionals when planning exhibits, so being professional and friendly during an interview shows that you can be a positive representative of the museum. When discussing your skills, you can mention specific techniques you use to select artworks, confirm the accuracy of your research or develop cohesive, interesting themes for your exhibits.

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