Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
CAREER DEVELOPMENT / MAY. 07, 2014
version 4, draft 4

How to Become a Museum Curator

An intriguing career for any individuals with a strong interest in the arts and history, the role of the museum curator is centred upon the management of a museum and its objects of interest- at all levels. Requiring keen organisational skills, good foresight and a sure and confident ability with decision making, it is a vocation known to attract a very particular character type. Personal strengths likely to see you succeed in this profession include:

  • A definite interest in a relevant specialist area (history, art etc.)
  • Computer literacy
  • Good organisation skills
  • An careful and accurate nature
  • Creative flair
  • Flawless communicational skills
  • Commercial/market awareness
  • An awareness of Public Relations strategy
  • Planning, administration and budgeting skills

The Work Itself

The nature of the tasks performed by a typical museum curator will vary slightly from professional to professional depending on the field in which they specialise, though for the most part will work towards achieving the same end goals and outcomes. Typical work-related duties in every field include:

  • Organising and indexing items
  • Sourcing, selecting, buying and borrowing items
  • Arranging for conservation and restoration
  • Setting up displays and exhibitions appropriately
  • Assisting the museums visitors interpret and enjoy exhibits
  • Managing a budget
  • Organising exhibition publicity
  • Fundraising
  • Liaising with and directing other staff members

Typically, larger museums will employ more than one curator- each of whom will be individually responsible for the goings-on within their department. For curators employed by smaller institutions however, tasks are usually more generalised and across-the-board.

Hours and Income

Unsurprisingly, the hours worked by a museum curator mirror those which the building is open for public viewing, but additional work is required. Work related obligations outside of this time are standard during busy periods however. It would typically be 37 hours weekly on a rota – with some weekends as well.

As for pay, the National Careers Service puts forward the following rates as those which can expect to be encountered at the varying levels within the curation profession:

Level

Salary

Assistant 

£20,000 - £25,000

Curator

£25,000 - £35,000

Senior Curator

£40,000+

For further information on your likely salary as a museum curator you can head to the Museums Association website.

Breaking into the field

As is generally the case with specialist professional roles of this kind, a mixture of both educational and vocational conditioning is needed in order to become a museum curator. Typically, a curator will first work as an assistant curator, education manager or departmental collections head before graduating to the management-level position of curator.

Of course, routes tend to vary depending on the individual in question, not to mention their area of speciality and institution of employment. The opportunities which become available as they work their way towards the role also play a huge part in things.

In terms of education, a prospective curator will for the most part require a degree/postgraduate degree/professional qualification in their field before they can be considered for a job of this kind. Typical subject areas include:

  • Archaeology
  • Ancient history
  • Classics
  • Museum or Heritage studies
  • Education
  • Anthropology
  • History

Generally speaking, the more experience a candidate can notch up on their journey through education, the more employable they will be by the time they graduate. For tips and leads on relevant volunteering schemes, placements and internships- head to the Museums Association (MA) website.

Career Trajectory

Once you’re on this career path, the potential for progression can only grow as your own knowledge and experience does. As it’s a very hands-on role, at least in terms of the application of the expertise earned during the educational route you took to get there; museum curators often find themselves making working in academia and even the arts. 

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