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How to Become a Museum Curator in the US

For art, history and cultural enthusiasts, visiting museums with interesting and emotion-inducing collections is a valuable pastime. Curators are responsible for acquiring and overseeing these collections and other historical artifacts, and are usually considered museum managers. In small institutions, one curator may be sufficient to undertake these duties, but in large establishments, several curators are required to effectively manage the different collections. Museums cannot properly function without the services of a curator.

What Does a Curator Do?

Although museums have a relaxed façade, curators have demanding duties to ensure the collections are authentic and properly maintained. Their duties include:

  • Obtaining collections, such as artwork, artifacts, exhibits, historical documents and other historic items for museums
  • Designing the layout of exhibits and selecting the themes that best showcase collections
  • Analyzing the age, origin, distinctive marks of collections and historical documents to determine their authenticity
  • Creating and maintain a database for artifacts, documents and other collections.
  • Drafting grant proposals for fundraising purposes
  • Organizing events for the museums, for example, exhibits for emerging artists or new collections, tours, and educational programs
  • Conducting research on artifacts and historical items
  • Drafting guidelines for the public and workers at the museum on proper handling of collections
  • Supervising the work of other staff in charge of handling artifacts and documents
  • Organizing outreach programs to increase the awareness of the institution


This is a highly competitive market, therefore love and knowledge of art is not sufficient to attract coveted positions. A strong educational background with focus on a specialty, and additional training appeals to prospective employers. For some institutions, employers may require a doctoral degree; however, master’s level education is the normal requirement. Qualifications for this career include:

  • A bachelor’s degree in archeology, art, museum studies or history. You should also take minor courses in marketing, business management, and public relations to prepare for the administrative duties involved
  • A master’s degree in a specialty area, such as Chinese art. Take additional courses, for example, exhibit design and drafting of grants to enhance your skills
  • A doctoral degree is required in some institutions, such as natural history or science museums
  • Prior work experience for example, internship or volunteer position at a museum, or work as a research assistant to a curator is usually required to gain employment as a curator.


The work of a curator requires various skills vital for executing your duties including:

  • Sharp analytical skills and focus to detail to make conclusive evaluations of artifacts and historical items, and determine their authenticity
  • Excellent research skills
  • Good computer and organizational skills for proper record keeping
  • Interpersonal skills come in handy when conducting outreach programs and fundraising for the institution


The wage rate of a curator depends on place of work, experience and seniority. The highest earning curators are those who give grant making services while the lowest earners work in educational institutions.


Entry level



Mid Career





Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The best paying states for curators are District of Columbia, Connecticut, California, New York and Massachusetts.

Work Environment

There is fierce competition in this job market therefore, most curators often start in low level positions. Curators are mainly employed in museums, research, educational centers, and government institutions. Curators usually work regular business hours. However, those who manage museums may have to do some heavy lifting when setting up exhibits and organizing galleries. As a curator you may travel to different places to acquire collections especially if you work at a highly established organization.

Career Growth and Job Prospects

The expected growth rate in this industry lies at 11% between 2012 and 2022. This is an average growth rate. The increased employment of curators largely stems from increasing public interest in art and cultural aspects. Museums record gradual growth in the number of visitors every year, which necessitates them to acquire new collections to attract more clients.

If you have the necessary skills and attributes backed up with a passion for art and history then this could be a promising career for you.


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