What Does a Curator Do: Duties, Essential Skills and Salary
Updated 16 March 2023
If you like history or art and are interested in interacting with the public, a job as a curator might be a good fit for you. A job as a curator may be highly rewarding, with high-income potential and interesting tasks that change from day to day. Learning about the requirements to become a curator, as well as their major tasks, can help you decide whether this career path is right for you. In this article, we look at what does a curator do, how much does a curator earn, what are the requirements for the role and how to begin this career.
What does a curator do?
A curator is someone who oversees collections, including historical items, artwork and other collectable pieces, within an institution. These rare items are usually procured for exhibits and displays. Curators may work for museums, historical sites, botanical gardens, zoos or aquariums. Curators are frequently in charge of monitoring the management and upkeep of these objects for tourists to enjoy. Listed below are some additional duties outlining what does a curator do:
Negotiating art pricing or loan agreements throughout the buying process
Designing, assembling and organising show instalments
Examining and analysing the authenticity of bought works of art and artefacts
Creating interpretative information to help visitors understand the purpose and significance of artefacts
Budgeting purchases, maintaining inventories and supervising marketing initiatives
Evaluating the cultural and monetary worth of acquired artwork
Responding to queries about the history and importance of works
Planning events, seminars and lectures for artists and exhibits
Communicating with museum managers, artists and visitors
How much can you earn as a curator?
Curators often work full-time in museums or art galleries. Your salary as a curator is highly dependent on several criteria, including the size and financial well-being of the institution for which you work as well as your personal credentials entailing your level of professional experience, education and field expertise. Your position and the amount of responsibility you hold may also influence your salary. That said, the national average salary for a curator is $82,860 per year.
What are the requirements to become a curator?
Below are some requirements to become a curator:
Essentially, it's important that curators have advanced education, ideally a master's or doctorate in art history. The majority of extra training for a curator can be obtained through on-the-job training, although internships can help prospective curators stand out as more experienced candidates throughout the recruiting process. Curatorial internships can provide students with field experience that expands on the information and skills cultivated while pursuing their education.
As part of curatorial internships, you may expect to help museum directors and curators create displays and exhibitions by researching and gathering information about the artwork. You may also assist with the development and clean-up of installations, the preparation of materials for programmes and publications and the completion of other permanent and circulating exhibition duties as assigned by your supervisor. You may also undertake more advanced internships if you decide to pursue a doctorate. Internships available for doctorate students usually entail more in-depth training and involve duties similar to a curatorial assistant.
As a curator, you may consider developing and cultivating a combination of technical and soft skills to succeed in your role. Examples of such skills are as discussed below:
A curator's primary tasks include taking note of art loaned to the museum as well as the organisation's own holdings, arranging comprehensive events and lectures and coordinating shows that rotate every few months. It takes a highly organised person to successfully handle a lot of these complicated tasks at the same time. Curators are also bound to manage a range of administrative tasks entailing clerical work, staffing needs and finances.
Curators are in charge of certifying artwork and cultural objects. Therefore, it's essential that you've got a great eye for detail as well as the ability to think logically and analytically and use your art history expertise to establish a work's validity and date. It's part of a curator's duty to analyse the materials, age and other features of each item of acquired art to determine its style, author and most importantly, its authenticity.
Read more: Analytical Skills and Its importance
Curators ought to be creative to be able to construct unique and intriguing layouts to entice visitors. Creativity is also essential to conceptualise and realise attractive design displays and exhibitions. Creative curators can also deliver presentations and assist in organising marketing materials more innovatively.
Related: How To Show Creativity at Work
Inventory at galleries and museums is typically managed in project management systems, which requires at least basic proficiency in technological tools. Curators may frequently conduct research, which also necessitates computer skills. Curators are also usually in charge of updating a museum's website with information on a new exhibit or a particular piece of work that has arrived. Some curators also assist in the production of marketing materials.
Negotiating purchase pricing for works or loan conditions for circulating pieces is a significant component of a curator's job. Curators buy culturally and historically relevant artwork while keeping the organisation's budget in mind. As such, excellent negotiation skills are of the essence.
As a curator, it's essential that you're business astute. You may use the ability to manage personnel effectively, submit grant submissions to purchase art collections and utilise good marketing strategies to promote the institution. This is important to promote exhibitions, bring in visitors and sustain or grow income.
Knowledge of preservation techniques
Given that curators work with delicate works of art and historical objects daily, it's essential that you've got a thorough understanding of the procedures used to preserve various types of materials. This includes chemical treatments and proper material handling. This knowledge is especially pertinent considering that you deal with high-value and rare items.
Curators are to be able to successfully interact with museum administration, artists displaying their work and museum visitors. Curators may deliver speeches at exhibit openings, offer lectures or lead tours at the organisation. As such, it's vital that curators can communicate effectively and convincingly.
How to become a curator
Outlined below are the steps you may consider taking to begin your career as a curator:
1. Get a bachelor's degree
Obtaining a bachelor's degree is the first step in becoming a curator. The particular degree you need may be determined by the sector you wish to work in. It usually takes four years to complete a bachelor's degree.
2. Consider obtaining a master's degree
If you wish to become a curator with administrative duties, a master's degree is essential. A master's degree may not only supplement your bachelor's degree but may also offer you additional field experience, such as scheduling art exhibits for galleries. It usually takes one to two years to obtain a master's degree.
3. Consider pursuing a doctorate
In certain situations, organisations may require curators to hold doctorates. A senior-level curator role often needs a doctorate. A variety of degrees, including chemistry, history, restoration science, business administration and curatorship, can help you become a well-rounded museum administrator.
4. Gain experience
When you graduate, you may start exploring chances to broaden your abilities and obtain the field experience that companies seek when employing a curator. Look for employment with responsibilities similar to those of a curator, such as administration or management positions focusing on history, art or science. You can cultivate professional experience to enhance your resume's attractiveness.
5. Apply for internships
Internships are a wonderful method to gain hands-on experience in the field you want to work in. Check with professional organisations in your sector, since many of them assist aspiring curators in finding internship positions as one of their member perks. You can consider interning while still pursuing your education.
Read more: How To Get An Internship in 15 Steps
Tips and guidelines for becoming a curator
The following are some tips and guidelines you may consider to help you in your journey to become a curator:
Participate in a professional organisation: Join a professional organisation relating to your intended career to broaden your professional network.
Make your resume job-specific: Review the job description carefully for each position you apply for, and tailor your resume to highlight the essential skills and experiences that the company is looking for.
Carefully prepare for interviews: Spend time researching the museum, as well as its activities and objectives, before going to an interview. Identify important experiences that are relevant to what they're looking for in a candidate and examine common interview questions for curators, so you may be prepared to answer some frequently requested questions.
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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