Museum Curator

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Museum Curator

Education and Training: Master's degree or doctorate

Salary: Median—$43,920 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Curators are responsible for choosing and acquiring the pieces of art to be shown in a museum. They also decide how the pieces should be displayed and the order in which they appear. Curators select works for permanent display as well as works for special temporary exhibitions. Sometimes they organize educational and public outreach programs such as tours, workshops, and lectures to publicize their collections.

Museums of all sizes and types rely on curators to locate and present high-quality works that the public will appreciate. Larger museums employ several curators to acquire and maintain different collections for exhibition. Some curators specialize in a particular art form such as sculpture, painting, antique furniture, film, or photography; others concentrate on artwork from a particular historical period. Curators write publicity material and explanatory catalogs for exhibits and arrange for loans of art objects to and from other museums. In addition, they typically oversee the creation and maintenance of the institution's Web site.

Museum curators are ultimately accountable for the safety of their display pieces. They are also responsible for soliciting donations of artwork from collectors and getting business firms to fund special exhibitions. They must convince the museum's trustees that their acquisitions are worthwhile and be able to verify the authenticity of each piece.

Education and Training Requirements

Work as a curator generally requires a master's degree. Some museums, especially natural history and science museums, require a doctoral degree. Most curators do their graduate work in art, art history, or some specialized area such as archaeology and work in museums while they complete their education.

Getting the Job

Curators may be hired from within the museum system, possibly from the catalog or restoration department, or they may come from the academic arena. Internships allow promising students to gain practical experience, but not all museums offer them and those that do have a very large pool of candidates vying for the position.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

A curator may start out as an assistant, then advance to the position of chairperson of a curatorial department or chief curator for a museum. In some cases a curator may be promoted to museum director.

Job openings for curators are expected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2014. Art and history museums remain the largest employers in the museum industry. The number of museums built in the future and the expansion of current museums will be affected by a reduction in federal funding, so competition for curator positions will be stiff. Workers with good business and administrative skills will have the best employment opportunities.

Working Conditions

Curators' jobs may involve evening and weekend work as well as some travel. The work can be somewhat stressful because the objects a curator cares for are extremely valuable. In addition, each new acquisition and exhibition is subject to careful scrutiny by the public, by professional critics, and by the museum's board of trustees. However, curators also get a great deal of satisfaction from working with beautiful pieces of art and having an important voice in creating the policies of a museum. A good curator must be knowledgeable, thorough, well organized, and adept at dealing with people.

Where to Go for More Information

American Association of Museums
1575 Eye St. NW, Ste. 400
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 289-1818

Earnings and Benefits

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, curators earned a median annual wage of $43,920 in 2004. Salaries of curators in large, well-funded museums were considerably higher than those in small ones. The median annual salary for federal government museum curators was $76,126. Benefits usually include paid vacations and holidays, sick leave, and health insurance.