How Can I Become an Art Curator?

Research what it takes to become an art curator. Learn about education requirements, job responsibilities, average salary and career outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Art degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Art Curator Do?

Art curators are responsible for acquiring, displaying and storing works of art or conducting collection transactions at museums. They also must do appraisals and keep cataloging records. They may perform research projects or put on public service events, like exhibits and tours, for museums or institutions. For such, they will choose themes and designs. Other responsibilities include attending promotional meetings for their place of work, supervising related staff and cleaning objects. The following table gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Requirements Master's degree; some employers may require a doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Art history, curatorial studies, museology
Job Responsibilities Oversee acquisition, exhibition and storage of art collections; negotiate and authorize transactions involving collections or pieces; evaluate and authenticate works of art; assist with museum fundraising and promotion
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 8% (for all curators)*
Median Salary (2015) $51,520 (for all curators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is an Art Curator?

An art curator is an administrator at a museum. As an art curator, you oversee various art collections, including their acquisition, exhibition and storage. When collections need to be purchased, sold, loaned or exchanged, your job involves negotiating and authorizing such transactions. Additionally, you may evaluate and authenticate works of art as well as categorize pieces in a collection. A significant part of your job as an art curator can also involve assisting with museum research projects, educational programs, fundraising and promotion. These tasks could include attending meetings and civic events and writing or reviewing grant proposals and publicity materials.

Some curators are also museum directors. Depending on the size of the museum you work for, you may perform all of the tasks described above. Or, you may play a more specialized role, focusing solely on collection maintenance, research or administrative tasks. If you work for a large museum, your job may involve a good deal of travel to conduct research, organize exhibitions and evaluate works of art.

What Type of Education is Required of an Art Curator?

To become an art curator, you typically need a graduate degree. Relevant master's degree programs are available in museum studies (museology) and art history. To give yourself an edge in the job market, you might consider earning master's degrees in both of these areas. Curatorial studies programs that combine the study of art history with courses for aspiring curators are also available. Some employers may prefer or require a doctoral degree, whereas some small museums might consider a curator applicant with only a bachelor's degree. A master's degree program can often be completed in as little as two years, whereas it could take you five years or longer to earn your doctoral degree.

In addition to a graduate degree, some curator jobs require relevant work experience. This component could include an internship or other hands-on work; for example, you might get a job working at a museum while you complete your education. In some cases, internship requirements may be built into a master's degree program.

What Will I Study?

Whether you pursue a master's degree program in art history or curatorial studies, you may likely take a variety of art history courses as well as courses in art theory and criticism. Because art is considered a reflection of society and culture, you may also take a variety of humanities and social sciences courses. In a curatorial studies program, you may read and analyze the works of major art critics and theorists, hear lectures from guest curators and museum professionals, and gain hands-on experience in exhibition planning. Most master's degree programs culminate in a thesis writing project, but in the case of a curatorial studies program, a thesis exhibition project may also be an option.

Although a thorough knowledge of art and art history is essential for an art curator, courses in business administration, marketing, public relations and fundraising are also recommended due to the administrative nature of many curator positions. Because art curators often work with electronic databases or post information on the Web, you may also need to be comfortable working with computers and digital images and be knowledgeable about copyright law.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Related careers include anthropologists and archaeologists, historians and librarians. Anthropologists and archaeologists research human cultural development and function. Historians study the past and present. Librarians manage libraries and assist people in the usage of their catalogs. All of these positions require a master's degree.

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