Museum Curator/Museum Director Job Description, Education, Training Requirements, Career, Salary, Employment

Job Description: Curators administer the affairs of museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, nature centers, and historic sites. (The head curator of the museum is usually called the museum director.) Curators direct the acquisition, storage, and exhibition of collections, including negotiating and authorizing the purchase, sale, exchange or loan of collections. They are also responsible for authenticating, evaluating, and categorizing the specimens in a collection.

Training and Educational Qualifications: For employment as a curator, most museums require a master’s degree in an appropriate discipline of the museum’s specialty art, history, or archaeology or in museum studies. Many employers prefer a doctoral degree, particularly for curators in natural history or science museums. Earning two graduate degrees in museum studies (museology) and a specialized subject gives a candidate a distinct advantage in this competitive job market.

Job Outlook: Curator jobs are attractive to many people, and many applicants have the necessary training and knowledge, but there are only a few openings. Consequently candidates may have to work part time, as an intern, or even as a volunteer assistant curator or research associate after completing their formal education. Substantial work experience in collection management, research, exhibit design, or restoration, as well as database management skills, will be necessary for permanent status. Another related career in museums is a museum preparator, who performs skilled preparatory work for museum collections.

Salary: Median annual earnings for curators are $46,300. The middle 50 percent earn between $34,410 and $61,740. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $26,320, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $80,030.

Significant Facts:

•    Curatorial positions often require knowledge in a number of fields. For historic and artistic conservation, courses in chemistry physics and art are desirable.

•    Because curators particularly those in small museums may have administrative and managerial responsibilities, courses in business administration, public relations, marketing and fundraising also are recommended.

•    Most curators specialize in a particular field, such as botany, art, paleontology or history. In small institutions with only one or a few curators, one curator may be responsible for a number of tasks, from maintaining collections to directing the affairs of the museum.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

In the field of historical preservation and curator-ship, the Colonial Williamsburg area is ideal. However, for arts in general, the area is extremely lacking.

What is your typical day like?

No two days are really the same. Typically, I check house conditions and make adjustments, oversee the grounds and housekeeping, contact other curators, schedule maintenance, write for grant money, schedule art classes and art exhibitions, schedule cultural art events, perform managerial duties, teach some art classes, act as a docent and schedule tours.

What are your job responsibilities?

The preservation of a 1735 historical home which is both on the national and state registration logs as a significant historic landmark.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I deal with thousands of people from all over the world in a year’s time, which is interesting. I also like interacting with others who work in museums.

What do you dislike about your job?

My salary is quite low. I imagine larger institutions in larger metropolitan areas pay more.

Describe how you got into this industry and how you got your most recent job.

I was first hired as an activities director. Within a week, they realized my background and began to shift me to my current position.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

The murals I did inside and out on the Busch Gardens, Pompeii Ride (took 9 months to complete).

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?

Museum management.

To what professional associations do you belong?

Virginia Museum Association.

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

Be tough and remember you are doing it for the love of the arts.

Did you have an internship in this field prior to starting your job?

Coordinator for the Mural Team through Service Opportunities for Students. I managed student-executed mural projects and worked at facilitating requests from local non-profit agencies within the greater Savannah area.

Which companies have the best internships in this field and are known to help launch successful careers?

Small museums are great places to get experience with the care and handling of art because you are more likely to be assigned many roles and duties.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

New York. There are over 20 shipping and packing companies in New York, and these are some of the best places to gain experience in problem-solving and best practices.

What is your typical day like and job responsibilities?

My job involves installation, gallery maintenance, lighting, fabrication of exhibition furniture, mat and frame works on paper, and packing and shipping of art and artifacts. My daily activities include responding to requests from curators and registrars to unpack or pack objects, install work or perform routine gallery maintenance. When there is a large exhibition, several weeks will be devoted to the rough preparation (carpentry, painting) to installation of the work, then labeling and lighting.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Installation of Asian galleries, especially Chinese works on paper.

What do you dislike about your job?

Unsuccessfully searching for things in storage.

How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

The constant direct access to world-class art is addictive. There are constantly discoveries of clever tricks that artists and their assistants use to efficiently install and transport their work.

Describe how you got into this industry and how you got your most recent job.

I worked as a freelance contractor for Princeton University Art Museum and responded to an application.

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?


What professional publications do you read?

Art in America, Modern Painters, Artforum, Fine Woodworking, Art Papers, New American Paintings.

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

Try to find work in a shipping/storage/installation company.