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How to Become a Museum Curator: Job Description, Degrees & Salary

Jan 13, 2022

Learn about the educational requirements for becoming a museum curator. Find out what museum curators do, and explore the step-by-step process that can help you start a career in museum curating.

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What Does a Museum Curator Do?

Museum curators oversee museum collections by managing the acquisition, preservation and display of museum artifacts. Curators may also be in charge of authenticating the age and origin of pieces and could also work with the public. In addition, many curators work with a museum's board of directors and are responsible for museum fundraising, public relations and site management. Curators typically work in museums, art galleries, educational centers, and sometimes alongside private collections.

Museum curator jobs require a bachelor

Museum Curator Education Requirements

Interested in learning how to become a museum curator? Museum job requirements include a bachelor's degree in art, history, archeology, museum studies or a related field at minimum. There may not be a specific museum curator degree offered at the undergraduate level; instead, learning about history and the kinds of subjects covered by museums is a good place to start. Preference is often given to applicants who have a master's degree and/or 4-5 years of work experience. A PhD is necessary for some higher-level positions.

Career Information

Degree Level Bachelor's; master's degree preferred
Degree Field Art, history, archeology, museum studies, or a related field
Experience 4-5 years often preferred
Key Skills Strong organizational, management, and critical-thinking skills; database management; physical stamina
Salary $54,570 (2019 median for museum curators)
Job Outlook 11% growth between 2019 and 2029

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Salary.com.

Skills that museum curators need include:

  • Good critical thinking
  • Organizational skills
  • Public services skills
  • Ability to manage and work with database systems
  • Manual dexterity
  • Ability to climb ladders and lift heavy objects

Now let's go through the steps you'll need to follow to become a museum curator.

Being a Curator: Steps

Step 1: Earn a Museum Curator Bachelor's Degree

As we stated earlier, prospective curators must obtain a bachelor's degree. Since curators can work for many different kinds of museums, such as art, science and natural history, students should choose a major that's relevant to the type of museum they plan to work in. For example, an aspiring art museum curator may consider studying fine arts or art history, while a future historical museum curator may consider studying anthropology or history. If museum curator college programs are available, students should also consider taking them.

Success Tips:

  • Complete volunteer work. Logging volunteer hours at a museum can give students valuable first-hand experience that can help them stand out in the job market.
  • Take business and marketing courses. Since curators play a vital role in purchasing artifacts and planning fundraisers for museums, elective coursework in business and marketing may expand career opportunities and prepare students for more business-oriented aspects of curating.

Step 2: Complete a Museum Curator Master's Degree

A master's degree is a far more common educational requirement for a museum curator than a bachelor's degree. Students in master's degree programs typically choose a specialized area of study, such as Native American history or ancient Chinese art. It is also possible to obtain a museum management and curatorship degree at the graduate level. Holding multiple master's degrees, one in museum studies and one in a specialty area, may give prospective curators a competitive edge over applicants who hold only one master's degree. Again, students should pursue their studies in a field related to the type of museum they want to work in.

Success Tips:

  • Take museology courses. Students earning a master's degree in a specialized subject may consider taking museum studies courses as electives. Completing courses in areas like exhibit organization or grant writing can help a student prepare for a career in curating and stand out to employers.
  • Join museology organizations. Joining one or more professional organizations can help a prospective curator keep up with developments in the field, and membership can also serve as a networking tool to help a student find a job.

Step 3: Gain Museum Curator Experience

Now that you understand how to become a curator, keep in mind that experience is the last important requirement you will have to fulfill. Some graduate programs require internships, but they can be completed voluntarily as well. Participating in an internship program in a museum will greatly increase job prospects for graduates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Aspiring museum curators commonly work in lower-level positions for a few years after finishing their studies. Work experience as an assistant or research associate can help future curators learn the practical skills they need to land leadership roles in this competitive field.

FAQs

What Is a Curator?

So, what is a museum curator? What does a museum curator do? Being a curator entails planning museum exhibits, sourcing artifacts, setting up displays, liaising with various museum departments and sources, and making sure that above all else, everything is ethically sourced, correctly attributed, and where possible, repatriated to the appropriate parties. Museum curator jobs depend on curators' ability to create excellent learning resources.

How Much Do Museum Curators Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual museum curator salary was $54,570 as of May 2019. The lowest-paid 10% of curators earned a median salary of $30,740, while the highest-paid earned $94,750 or more. From 2019-2029, museum curators can expect an 11% growth in employment.

What Skills Do Curators Need?

Some of the important skills that museum curators might need include:

  • Specialist knowledge of one or more areas of history, art, archaeology, anthropology, or natural sciences
  • Understanding of decolonization in museum practices
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Good visual skills
  • Commitment to providing up-to-date information at all times

If you're still interested in becoming a museum curator, remember, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree and most likely a master's degree to obtain a position, after which you may earn a median annual salary of $54,570.

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