Following our previous discussion on the role of an archivist, this week we examine an integral museum position, that of the curator.
A curator is commonly seen as “making collections come alive”. That’s obviously a very important part of what a curator does – displaying museum artefacts in a way that is accessible and interesting to the public – but there’s a lot more that goes into curatorship than deciding how to hang a painting. Depending on the size of the museum or institution, a curator’s duties may include some or all of the following:
- Acquiring collections, including negotiating and authorising the purchase, sale, exchange, and loan of collections
- Selecting the theme and layout of exhibitions
- Opening exhibitions and hosting lectures
- Writing articles for internal and external publications
- Assessing the authenticity, significance and value of items
- Overseeing and helping to conduct research projects and related educational programmes
- Planning, organising and conducting tours and workshops for the public
- Fundraising and marketing, including the writing and reviewing of grant proposals, journal articles, and PR materials
The specific responsibilities of a curator may vary from museum to museum. At a small, independent museum or gallery a curator may, in effect, be the manager, looking after the collection, operations as well as the staff. On the other end of the spectrum, a curator at a large national museum or gallery might be responsible for one specific area of a collection, or for research in a specific field of knowledge. As such, curators often specialise in a particular field, such as botany, art, or history.
So perhaps you have a passion for a particular subject and are considering a career as a curator. What will a museum or gallery expect from you in terms of qualifications? Most museums require curators to have a minimum of a Master’s degree in an appropriate discipline of the museum’s specialty, such as art, history, archaeology etc, or in museum studies. Holding two graduate degrees, one in museum studies, and a second in a specialised field, will obviously be an advantage. That being said, smaller museums or galleries may only require a Bachelor’s degree. What’s an essential requirement across the board though is passion – it’s a person’s love for history, art, or whatever their particular field is, that’s going to be the essential ingredient in the making of a successful curator!