I am wondering what a museum curator actually does and how you become a museum curator. And how difficult is it? Thanks.
First off, curators have awesome jobs, albiet usually not all that well paid in comparison to other jobs with equal requirements (or even much less).
The role of museum curators has actually changed over the years and varies somewhat with the institution, but traditionally, there are a few main jobs that most curators have.
The first role is that of guiding the collections they oversee. They work with exhibit designers to create new exhibits and ensure scientific accuracy of the exhibits. They ensure that the collections are well cared for. While much of the day to day work maintaing the collections is done by collections managers these days, the curator is the one responsible for and in charge of the collections. They also identify new acquisitions and donations. This job is part of their role in guiding the growth of the collections, deciding what the museum will collect and keep and what to turn down or donate to other places (accredited museums are not generally allowed to sell their collections).
A big role that curators perform and one that ties into growth of the collections is that of researcher. They are expected to do scientific research on the collections they oversee. In some large museums, many curators do nothing but research.
Another big role they perform, which again ties into the above roles, is that of educator. Curators are often asked to give talks about their research or exhibits in the museum, to act as consultants on various projects, and answer questions from the public, officials, or reporters. They often write articles for magazines or books about their research topics for the general public.
Becoming a curator generally requires a doctorate in a subject, along with a collections-based research program. It is also helpful but not required to get a graduate degree or certification in museum studies. The work can be difficult and it takes a lot of training to get the job. There are few jobs and you usually have to spend some time volunteering in a museum before you get a paid position, so it is difficult to get a job as a curator.
That being said, if you have a passion for both your research subject and for public education and don't mind long hours, there is no better job.
One thing I would like to point out is that there is a trend in the media these days to call anyone who collects or organizes something a "curator". This is not true. Having a large collection of music or books or clothes does not make one a curator even if it is all nicely organized. The title curator implies a high level of knowledge and training, it demands a level of expertise. I personally get rather annoyed with people that casually throw the word curation around like it is synonymous with owning a bunch of stuff. Organizing one's record collection does not make one a curator, despite what certain famous performers may think.
Last edited by Joe Daniel (17th Jun 2010 16:06:21)
To put a UK spin on that, aside from museums attached to Universities, or the big national museums, for most UK museums these two statements aren't correct:
" A big role that curators perform and one that ties into growth of the collections is that of researcher. They are expected to do scientific research on the collections they oversee. In some large museums, many curators do nothing but research."
"Becoming a curator generally requires a doctorate in a subject, along with a collections-based research program. It is also helpful but not required to get a graduate degree or certification in museum studies."
In the UK, most (regional) museums will actively select against someone with a doctorate, in favour of someone with a museum studies qualification. This is because the regional museums don't want someone who does research, they want someone to manage the collections. Obviously a specialist knowledge helps, but there is such a thing as "over qualified."
Of course, I'm not speaking for all regional museums, but this seems to be the general trend.
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