Lovers of art, history and anthropology may not have many career choices, but there is one field that makes use of their knowledge and skills. Museum curators spend their days scouring the world for art pieces or scientific marvels. They also educate the public about history and the science behind many of their finds. While this is not an easy field to break into, the personal rewards are many. The curator is, after all, the keeper and orator of history.
An analytical nature is an important quality to have if you want to succeed as a museum curator. Daily tasks require a critical and discerning nature in order to evaluate the value and authenticity of pieces. Curators must grapple with large collections, and multiple collections, which require them to have highly evolved organizational skills to keep track of everything. Museums often loan pieces to other galleries and museums, which require careful tracking. Organizational skills are especially needed during these times. Due to the age of many museum pieces, curators must possess the technical skills that enable them to properly preserve these pieces for future display. In addition to the qualities that curators need for their job behind the scenes, they also need customer service skills for when they are educating the public.
Becoming a Curator
Only a handful of colleges and universities offer courses specifically for museum curators. It is far more typical to specialize in a particular field of art, history or science. Curators might specialized in art or objects from a certain time period or from a geographic place, although at smaller museums, their fields are broader. For example, among large, national institutions, a major in fine arts would make you a desirable candidate for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, while a major in Early American history would prepare you to apply for a curator position at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Many high-profile museums require curatorsto have master’s degree or PhDs. Smaller museums might only require a bachelor’s degree. Anthropology and archeology majors also are popular choices for pursuing a museum curator position.
Acquiring art and other museum quality pieces is a large part of a curator’s daily routine, if they are employed at a large museum. Curators working at the historic Louvre in Paris spend the major portion of their time developing the collections of their assigned departments. This requires hours spent researching the collections of private investors, antique dealers, corporate donors and the open market for pieces placed for sale. Curators may also attend auctions. Research is also a big part of a curator’s daily activity. In preparing a piece for display, a curator must know the history attached to the item in order to properly catalog, and display. Curators at well-known museums may be called upon to produce articles for art magazines and gallery catalogs.
Curators employed at smaller museums may find that the work day entails more than just research and acquisitions. Due to funding being cut for the arts, many museums have suffered cutbacks, meaning that the curator must perform other duties. They typically include administrative duties such as hiring staff and training the guides who interact with visitors. Curators may also be called upon to lead fund-raising campaigns and write grant applications. Depending on the size of the museum, some curators may function as the museum director. In this role they are responsible for constructing the budget, handling public relations and overseeing museum operations.
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