A Guide on How To Become a Museum Curator (With FAQs)

Updated 11 April 2023

If you enjoy the idea of working with ancient items and historical artefacts, then the profession of a museum curator might be for you. This can be a rewarding career path that allows you to gain extensive knowledge about the objects and art that shape the culture of societies. Learning how to obtain a job in this profession can help you prepare and take the necessary steps to pursue this career successfully. In this article, we discuss how to become a museum curator, explore what their duties are, examine their skills and review some frequently asked questions.

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What are the duties of a museum curator?

Museum curators design, install and arrange installations in museums, such as an art or history exhibit. They spend their days negotiating the acquisition of art pieces and planning their installation. A museum curator might specialise in a special area of art or work broadly in museums that offer a variety of exhibits.

Related: Who Is an Archivist? With Duties, Education and Skills

Curators aren't only responsible for the exhibits; they also handle administrative duties around the museum and are often responsible for planning events, lectures, workshops and other activities centred around the artists and exhibits. A museum curator is an essential player in museum administration who liaises between administrators, artists and museum-goers to create the ultimate experience for people who enjoy art and other museum installations.

Other responsibilities for museum curators include:

  • Storing artefacts in the proper and safe way

  • Choosing the theme of an exhibit

  • Providing museum and exhibit tours to visitors

  • Using specialised solvents and supplies to clean certificates

  • Supervising and directing museum personnel

  • Planning special research initiatives

  • Managing educational programmes related to the exhibit

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

How to become a museum curator in 5 steps

Follow these five steps on how to become a museum curator:

1. Obtain a bachelor's degree

To become a museum curator, most museums require at least a bachelor's degree. If you plan to work in an art setting, a bachelor's degree in fine arts offers a good educational foundation in practical art skills and art history. If you're planning to work in a history museum or science museum, then a degree in a field related to one of those would be an appropriate choice.

You might also consider getting a degree in history, art history, museum studies, egyptology or archaeology. Because this role often involves management and administrative duties, business administration and public relations courses are beneficial.

Read more:

  • What Can You Do With a History Degree? (With Salaries)

  • Archaeology Degree Careers (With Salaries and Job Duties)

2. Volunteer or do an internship at a museum

During your bachelor's degree programme, you can start gaining experience with internships and externships at a local museum. This is an opportunity to develop important capabilities and learn about the daily activities and duties of a museum curator. If you can job shadow these professionals, then that's an even better experience since it's a hands-on exposure to the work environment. It also helps you expand your network, which can assist you in getting a job after graduation. If you can't get an internship, consider volunteering.

3. Consider getting a master's degree

It's a good idea to seek a master's degree or higher if you want to work in museum administration. A master's degree in fine arts or art history can give you a practical education with significant involvement in curating art shows for galleries. This experience is invaluable since it can help you secure a job working in a museum. If you're interested in working in a museum of natural sciences or history, or some other non-art museum, then a master's degree in business administration, botany or science-equivalent can be beneficial in helping you achieve this endeavour.

4. Craft a compelling resume

Once you've gained some experience and obtained your academic qualifications, create a resume that accurately captures your passion and capabilities. Make certain to emphasise your internship, volunteer and other relevant experience at a museum and be thorough in the duties you performed. To increase your chances of getting a job, craft a cover letter and tailor it to each new job that you apply for. Consider including keywords from the job descriptions to ensure that it more closely aligns with what the hiring manager wants. To ensure that your resume is in pristine condition, consider hiring a professional resume writer.

Read more: How to Write a Museum Curator Resume (With Template)

5. Apply for museum curator jobs

Once you've achieved the combined amount of education, skill development and experience needed to work as a museum curator, start applying for jobs. Conduct thorough research on museum curator roles near you. You can find jobs and apply for them using online career platforms. If you formed any professional network connections during your internship or stint as a volunteer, contact them about any potential job opportunities.

Top 3 museum curator skills

Here are some core skills that are necessary for working as a museum curator:

Read more: 5 Curator Skills to Develop (And How to Improve Them)

Collections management

Collections management is a skill that refers to the methods and procedures that a museum curator uses to manage all the collection items. This means managing where to hold them and who is allowed to handle them. They also manage collections by ensuring someone preserves them properly for various purposes.

Related: Management Skills: Definition and Examples

Gallery exhibition management

Gallery exhibition management is a skill that allows a curator to skillfully display items and artefacts within an exhibit. This means knowing how to place items in a way that creates a cohesive gallery and ensures visitors get the complete experience. A curator may also know how to protect these items on display as well.

Related: What Are Technical Skills?

Project management

Museum curators may work on several projects at once, and project management skills allow them to manage them all successfully. This means understanding every detail about what makes a museum project successful and overseeing everyone involved to ensure they contribute appropriately. With this skill, a museum curator can ensure that their exhibits operate as intended.

Related: Project Manager Skills and Duties (With Examples)

FAQs about museum curators

Review the answers to these frequently asked questions about museum curators:

How much does a museum curator make?

The national average salary for a curator is $79,777 per year. However, this estimate is likely to vary for several reasons, including the museum curator's educational achievements, work experience, geographical location, and employer. As you gain more experience in this occupation, you may be able to advocate or negotiate for a higher salary.

Related: How To Negotiate a Salary (With Examples)

What is the work environment of a museum curator?

The working environment for a museum curator can vary depending on the size of the museum they work in. Generally, they spend part of their time at a desk preparing documentation and using computer software. They perform other duties that require them to work with visitors by providing them with educational information and answering their questions. Curators work during normal business hours, though they may perform some overtime during peak holiday seasons or for special events. Travelling may be a frequent part of their job, since they may conduct research and evaluate collection pieces.

How much time does it take to get a job as a museum curator?

Generally, it can take anywhere between five and 10 years to work as a museum curator. Entry-level positions are uncommon, since most museum curators perform at a management level. However, there are factors that can significantly change how long it takes for you to get hired in this occupation. Whether you're a full-time or part-time student and any current job commitments can alter this estimate. The sooner you complete your academics and other preliminary museum working experience, the quicker you can occupy this role.

What are the advancement opportunities for a museum curator?

The primary role you can advance into as a museum curator is museum director, or if you work for a smaller museum, then you may seek employment with a larger museum. Aside from years of experience, the path to advancement is through continuing your educational achievements. Consider joining a historical, archaeological or some other similar museum organisation. It can also benefit you to partake in workshops, conferences and meetings relevant to the museum industry. You might also join an academic journal or research institution as a contributing member.

What is the difference between a museum curator and a conservator?

The primary difference between the museum curator and the museum conservator is their duties and responsibilities, though they do often work very closely within the same environment. The curator is responsible for collecting, managing and displaying historical artefacts for exhibits. They might also manage other employees in the museum as well, including the conservator. They are usually the person you go to when you have a question about an item. The conservator generally works out of the public eye at a museum. They preserve the quality and integrity of pieces, so they don't erode or break apart when handled.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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