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Curators are responsible for assembling, cataloguing, managing and presenting/displaying artistic and cultural collections.
Some museums run volunteer programmes or offer work placements.

What does a curator do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Curators are in charge of a collection of exhibits in a museum or art gallery. Their job is to build up collections, often in specialist areas. Curators develop ways in which objects, archives and artworks can be interpreted, through exhibitions, publications, events and audio-visual presentations. Their work involves buying exhibits, organising exhibitions, arranging restoration of artefacts, identifying and recording items, organising loans and dealing with enquiries. All of these tasks require curators to work with colleagues in areas such as conservation, education, design and marketing. In addition, they may conduct research and may lecture on findings or ongoing activities.

Other typical responsibilities of curators include:

  • developing and organising new collections to expand and improve educational and research facilities
  • extensively researching, negotiating prices on and buying items such as sculptures, statues and paintings that can add value to the collection
  • maintaining records and cataloguing acquisitions
  • researching, compiling and preparing written information about catalogues and publishing it on the institution's website
  • collaborating with other institutions
  • ensuring that collections are properly preserved
  • raising funds and grants
  • interviewing, hiring and training staff and managing volunteers.

The specific nature of the role will depend on the size of the museum you work for. At a small museum, the curator may also effectively manage the institution as a whole; at a large establishment, there could be a number of curators specialising in different aspects of the collection and exhibitions. Self-employment and contract work is common.

Some curators may occasionally have the opportunity to travel, but the work is mainly during the day and in one location. The work of a curator can involve some evening and weekend work.

There is some overlap between the role of curator and the role of museum or gallery exhibition officer.

Typical employers of curators

  • National museums/galleries
  • Local authority museums/galleries
  • Independent museums/galleries
  • Heritage centres

Qualifications and training required

A good undergraduate degree is usually essential for the majority of curatorial positions. Due to the strong competition in this area, many curators also hold postgraduate degrees or diplomas and have previous experience. You might begin your career in a more junior role such as assistant curator.

This area of work is open to graduates of all disciplines, but particularly relevant subjects include:

  • anthropology
  • archaeology
  • art
  • art history
  • arts administration
  • event/exhibition management
  • history.

Many (but by no means all) museums and galleries like to recruit staff with postgraduate museum studies, arts administration or similar qualifications. The sector is becoming increasingly professionalised and there are now a number of postgraduate programmes available.

Some museums run volunteer programmes or offer work placements, so anyone interested in following this career should try to spend some time on such a placement. Experience in public relations would be an advantage. There can be stiff competition for internship and volunteering opportunities, and you may find it easier to gain volunteering experience with smaller museums and galleries than with large national institutions. The Museums Association advertises internship opportunities on its website.

Key skills for curators

  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Ability to organise, present and communicate messages effectively through design
  • Excellent project management and organisational skills
  • Knowledge of fundraising for cultural projects
  • Knowledge of working with museum databases and IT issues
  • Good teamworking skills
  • Excellent research and IT skills.

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