The ideal position for an art history buff, an art exhibition curator develops and manages the collections of art and other items at an art gallery, museum, or institution. She might also be responsible for public relations and fundraising, plus host education programs for the local community. When employed by a smaller museum, the curator position might also include duties like budget planning, working with vendors, and overseeing staff.
An art exhibition curator's roles differ depending on the size and focus of the employing institution. At a small museum, she might be responsible for the entire operation, managing the art collections, staff, and volunteers. At a larger institution, she might only be responsible for managing a single collection or exhibit floor. Though she might work in a public relations capacity and speak to press and the public about exhibits, she generally works independently, preparing acquisitions, cataloguing works of art into collections, writing articles, and planning future installations of exhibits. In addition to overseeing the transport, storage, and displaying of art collections, the art exhibition curator might also be required to appraise and oversee the conservation of the pieces.
Skills and Qualifications
The art exhibition curator will literally live and breathe art, so a background in art history and fine arts is integral to ensuring that exhibits are properly acquired and reflect the appropriate historical context. Strong communication skills and a good grasp on grammar allow her to better manage public relations, and a background in project management helps her effectively oversee collections from the early planning stages to an exhibit's end. She also needs to be extremely detail-oriented and exercise good judgment and problem solving skills.
At smaller museums, art exhibition curators might only be required to have a bachelor's degree, but larger institutions generally require at least a master's degree in an applicable field like fine art, art history, or archaeology, in addition to experience working as an employee or intern in a museum, exhibit, or gallery. Because she will have a good deal of public relations, administrative, and managerial responsibilities, training in business administration, fundraising, and marketing is always recommended. A second degree in a field that is museum-related would be a plus -- the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies (SCEMS), for example, offers continuing education, degree, and certificate programs in museum studies.
Curators are typically employed by museums and art galleries, but you will also find them at universities, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and historical sites. Though a lot of the job entails working independently in research and preparation, some curators are also tasked with installing and tearing down exhibits. As a result, you might be expected to climb ladders, do a good bit of stretching, and handle heavy objects. Larger museums might require their curators to travel for research or to evaluate new collections and organize future exhibits.
The competition for art exhibition curator positions at top museums is fierce, and there are a great deal more applicants who meet educational and experience requirements than there are actual curator jobs available. Developing relationships and networking in the museum world is integral, so interning and volunteering can help lead you to better prospects over time. To gain a marketable edge, it might also be necessary to take part-time work with a museum while also pursuing a doctoral degree.
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