How to Become a Museum Curator: Degree & Requirements

Find out about the world of museum curators. Read on to discover what curators do, their education requirements, and their average salary and employment outlook. Schools offering Museum Studies degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Museum Curators: Career at a Glance

Curators, who also go by the title of museum director, manage a museum or art gallery and are responsible for everything that takes place there. They decide what exhibits to feature, acquire new pieces for the museum's collection, and oversee research being done on the museum's artifacts. Curators also act as the public face of the museum, whether that is through fundraising events, speeches or television appearances, or simply interacting with visitors.

Degree Required Master's Degree
Education Field of Study History, Archaeology, Art History, or Museum Studies
Key Skills Attention to detail, an analytical mind, and a personable demeanor
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 14%
Average Salary (2017)* $58,830

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Museum Curators Do?

In a museum, the curator is often the highest position and entrusted with ensuring the museum is of the highest quality and offers its visitors the best and most accurate information possible. Curators decide what new artifacts to acquire, develop campaigns featuring certain exhibits to appeal to the public, and direct those working under them towards these ends. Large museums may have multiple curators with different specialties who attend to different parts of the museum's collection. Museum curators may also have to represent the museum in public and professional venues, such as conferences and television programs, and are key to arranging fundraisers that help keep the museum's doors open. Raising the museum's profile and increasing its prestige is often an important part of this effort.

What Education Is Needed to Become a Curator?

Museum curators are typically required to have a master's degree; however, smaller museums may only ask for a bachelor's degree, while very large and prestigious organizations might require a doctorate. The museum's focus will match the curator's field of study; for example, an art museum would have a curator whose degree is in art history. Since curators are also responsible for the day-to-day management of the museum, a focus on business administration or marketing would be beneficial, while taking classes in public relations will help with the public-facing side of the job. Those hoping to become a curator will likely take on internships at museums while studying for their degree.

How In Demand Are Museum Curators?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of museum curators is expected to increase by 14% from 2016-2026, which is much higher than the national average for all jobs. Competition at the most well known institutions can be fierce, however, as their prestige and their locations make them the most desirable. New York and California top the list of states that employ the most curators, although every state maintains at least a few museums. As of 2017, there were about 11,550 curators employed nationwide, per the BLS.

How Much Do Museum Curators Get Paid?

The average annual salary for museum curators is $58,830, but as always, actual numbers can vary greatly depending on the region of the country and the experience and education level of the individual. The top ten percent of museum curators earned $94,880 or more. New York, California, and the District of Columbia are among the best paying regions, with curators in DC earning an average salary of $88,020, likely due to the number of highly esteemed museums located there.

What Are Some Similar Careers?

There are a number of other important roles one can hold in a museum aside from curator, such as archivists, conservators, docents, and museum technicians. Archivists appraise, classify, and organize the specimens and exhibits in the museum's collection as well as determine what can safely be made available to the public. Conservators are responsible for preserving the artifacts and maintaining their condition. They may be tasked with restoring pieces that are damaged or at risk of decay. Docents give tours of the museum and explain the history and context of the objects on display. Technicians manage the items in the collection, making sure they are not damaged and minimizing the financial impacts to the museum if such damage were to occur.

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