exhibitionIf you’re searching for information on Museum Curator, I’m willing to bet you had an extensive collection of something as a kid – rocks, arrowheads, coins, stamps – maybe even just weird junk you thought was interesting. You arranged it, catalogued it, cleaned it, learned everything you could about it, and defended it whenever your mom told you it was taking up too much space.

In other words, you’ve already been a museum curator – just for your own museum. Because those are exactly the things a museum curator does. As a curator, you keep museum’s collections in order, study extensively, and rehearse a perfect sound bite for whenever a government official or board member asks, “Why do you need more money for X?”

So how do you get to be someone who gets paid for doing all that? It’s a pretty long educational road, but since it’s heading for something you love, it will all seem like fun.

Education

A museum curator wears a lot of hats, so the educational program can be pretty varied. Most curators start out majoring in history (or art history, if you want to work in an art museum) and getting a bachelor’s degree. But you won’t just study history. As a curator, you’ll be responsible for preserving, restoring, and protecting precious, sometimes priceless artifacts – you’ll need to know a good deal of science, such as

  • chemistry
  • geology
  • archeology
  • physics

You’re also going to do a lot of public relations, fundraising, and politics (because many museums are public), so business, marketing, and political science will be helpful. You’ll have to have excellent writing skills and interpersonal skills – take writing and speech-making or debate.

A solid undergraduate program will prepare you for the Master’s degree. You didn’t think you were done, did you? You’re going to be responsible for part of human history; you don’t get there with just a bachelor’s! There are actually master’s programs for curating and restoration. A Ph.D. can’t hurt, but it’s not essential – yet.

Finally, get to know the museum world by volunteering in college, and seeking internships. You’ll get paid little or nothing as an intern, but you’ll learn the ropes firsthand and make contacts for when you go seeking a job.

Job Expectations

As a curator, you will mostly be an administrator, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get your hands dirty. First of all, you’re going to have to work your way up. That means you’ll start out literally getting your hands dirty, cleaning and restoring pieces of the collection, moving things, setting up displays, and all of the nitty-gritty that goes on behind the scenes to make a beautiful, pristine museum possible. You may write up catalogues or dig through a basement full of forgotten acquisitions. But that’s exactly what you got into museums for – to be the person who discovers a lost masterpiece boxed up in a dusty corner of the museum!

When you finally get to be the curator, expect to spend a lot of time asking wealthy people for money. Also expect to be in a lot of meetings with government officials, if you curate a public museum, arguing for the greatness of the work you do. (Did we mention taking some classes in rhetoric and persuasion?) You’ll manage the museum, making sure everyone is doing their job, and making major decisions about what the museum buys, sells, and displays.

Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in archiving and museum curating are expected to grow 11% in the next ten years. The median income is around $44,000 a year, but that’s averaging all museum professionals – curators will likely make more, much more in a large, well-funded museum.

So go take a walk around your favorite museum. Imagine yourself behind the glass, setting those Grecian urns just right, walking the halls like you own the place. You won’t own it, but it could be yours to shape into the perfect museum.