The Role of the Curator

By 28th May 2019 May 31st, 2019 Articles

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!

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