A curator (from Latin: cura, meaning, “to take care”) is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution (e.g., gallery, museum, library, or archive) is a content specialist charged with an institution’s collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material.
There are different types of curators. Depending on where you work as a curator, this will influence the degree. Here are the two most common places that employ the services of a curator.
Museum curators are responsible for a museum’s collection, including acquiring pieces and maintaining the exhibits. These professionals may also perform research and write pieces for professional journals. In general, there are two different types of curator jobs. General curators are responsible for the entire museum, while section curators are responsible only for one specific area.
In addition, they oversee museum collections by managing the acquisition, preservation, and display of museum artifacts. Curators may also be in charge of authenticating the age and origin of pieces. They may consult with the museum’s board of directors who are responsible for fundraising, public relations, and site management. In this role, the curator might be required to present budget figures for the prospective purchase of display items in the museum.
A Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) may be sufficient academic training for positions in smaller museums. The courses you take for a career in museum work depends on both the type of work you want to do and the type of institution you work as a curator.
A degree in museum studies is another option. However, few schools offer bachelor’s degrees in museum studies. Instead, students choose majors or minors in related fields, such as art history, history, or anthropology. Internships are generally required. These provide a means to gain valuable experience.
When offered, a Bachelor of Science in museum studies is a technically-based undergraduate program that prepares you for careers in museums, archives, libraries, historical societies, historic sites, historic houses, and photography collections. Upon graduating, you will be versed in the history, theory, and practice of institutional collecting.
A B.S. degree in museum studies also prepares you for graduate study. The undergraduate coursework prepares you for a Master of Arts in museum studies, art history, or arts management. Other degree possibilities are a master of library and information science degree.
To become a curator at a national museum, like the Smithsonian in Washington DC, a Ph.D. is required, in conjunction with five-years field experience. Graduate degrees will include advanced coursework in art history, curatorship, history, chemistry, and business administration. As well, most curators perform continuing education by conducting research, attending conferences, and publishing academic articles.
You may start in the profession as a curatorial assistant. She/he provides support to curatorial projects initiated within the department. This includes gathering and analyzing art historical and scholarly texts, visual and object location information and budgetary data.
Additional duties include coordinating and corresponding with artists, dealers, lenders, art institutions, and collectors. You could also be tasked with preparing loan forms and master checklists, updating and keeping accurate records, scheduling the exhibition calendar and travel itineraries, and assisting with exhibition layout plans.
It is mandatory for a Curatorial Assistant to have a Master of Arts in art history. Some art museums may require a doctorate even for an assistant. For example, a job posting in Glassdoor for an assistant curator at the Dallas Museum of Art in the Islamic Art department requires a Ph.D. Candidates must have this degree in Art History or comparable field (Anthropology or Archaeology), with a specialization in North America, Mesoamerica, Central America or the Andes.
Not all jobs demand a Ph.D. There are other job postings seeking candidates with a Bachelor’s degree in Art History, museum studies, or related field. This particular job is for a Curatorial Administrative Assistant. The particular position entails providing administrative support to the Curator of Asian Art in programs and projects related to the Curatorial and Exhibitions departments.
A typical Bachelor of Arts in Art History studies the global history of art from ancient times to the contemporary. Courses examine art history from a wide variety of cultures, periods, and geographies through multiple approaches and methodologies. Subjects might include Egyptian Art, Greek Sculpture, Art of Italian Renaissance, Art of the 20th Century, and more.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lumps the occupations of archivist, curator, and museum worker together. The BLS reported the median salary at $47,360 as of May 2017 with a faster than average growth rate of 13%. According to the BLS, archivist, curator, and conservator positions often require a master’s degree related to the position’s field. Museum technicians typically have a bachelor’s degree.
The Art Career Project site reported the median annual salary for a museum curator at $51,520 in May 2015. Those just starting out may earn as little as $25,970, but curators with years of experience on the job can earn as much as $83,940.
This is comparable to the median salary for art curators, as reported by Glassdoor. Their compilation of 164 curator salaries was $52,031 as an average.