There are a few career paths to consider if you hope to work in an art museum, and each requires some form of postsecondary education. Archivists, curators, and conservators require master's degrees in various specializations, which are all outlined in more detail here. To work as a registrar or museum technician, a bachelor's degree in a related subject, such as art history or fine arts, is typically required.
Art museum jobs tend to focus on the display, documentation and acquisition of works of art for museum's collections. Professionals working for art museums may also participate in fundraising activities, coordinate special exhibitions and write grant proposals. Most jobs in art museums require a master's degree in a field like art, history or museum studies, though at least one position can be gained with a relevant undergraduate degree.
|Career Titles||Archivist||Curator||Conservator||Registrar or Museum Technician|
|Required Education||Master's degree||Master's degree||Master's degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Certification||Voluntary; may be preferred or required by certain employers||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||7%||8%||5% for conservators and museum technicians||5% for conservators and museum technicians|
|Average Salary (2015)*||$53,880||$56,990||$44,880 for conservators and museum technicians||$44,880 for conservators and museum technicians|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Jobs in an art museum include those related to the acquisition, preservation and exhibition of artwork, as well as those related to customer service, publicity and facility maintenance. Some common job titles include archivist, curator, conservator and museum technician.
Archivists control the preservation and organization of a museum's collection by storing valuable documents and cataloging a museum's records. They may do this through various means, such as creating methods for classification and putting together archival records. Another process involves transferring information to videotape, audiotape and other forms of electronic documentation. They may also be asked to store information traditionally as paper records.
Earning a master's degree through a history or library science program that includes courses in archival studies will give the aspiring archivist a heads up toward employment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Less common is earning a master's degree in archival studies, since only some programs are available. Students pursuing archival studies may study archival practices, archival records display and description, records management and digital technology.
Professional certification from the Academy of Certified Archivists is available to archivists who have a master's degree and at least one year of work experience. Candidates must pass an exam to earn this voluntary Certified Archivist (CA) credential. A few employers may prefer - or even require - that archivists hold the CA designation.
Salary and Job Outlook
Archivists earned an average annual salary of $53,880 as of 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). Those who worked in museums made an average of $45,210 at that same time. Archivists should see 7% growth in job openings from 2014-2024, per the BLS.
Curators direct the acquisition and display of pieces for an art museum's collection. Responsibilities include negotiating the purchase of pieces; they may also handle fundraising. Curators select the artwork to be used in an exhibition and design the way they are to be displayed. In addition, curators work to promote and publicize the museum through special events, workshops and showings. A curator's duties also include managing the budget, training curatorial staff and developing the museum's record-keeping system.
Being a curator generally requires earning a master's degree; often museums hire curators whose degree is in the museum's specialty, whether it be something like art, history or archaeology. Hiring someone with a master's in museum studies is also common, and some prospective curators interested in working in a specialty may earn degrees in both museum studies and a specialty, which the BLS indicates could give curators an edge in the job market (www.bls.gov).
In a museum studies program, students can learn strategies for presenting exhibitions. They also study the importance of museums as educational tools. In addition, instruction may be offered in the business side of running a museum, such as fundraising, finance, management and ethics. Certificate programs in curatorial studies may be available to students as part of a broader degree program.
Salary and Job Outlook
The average annual salary for curators was $56,990 as of 2015, as reported by the BLS. The average for curators working for museums, which were the largest employer of curators at that time, was $54,600. Job openings for curators should increase by 8% from 2014-2024, which is about average.
A conservator is concerned with the preservation and treatment of works of art. Specialized equipment and techniques are used to determine the methods needed to preserve a piece in its current condition. In addition, the position may require directing staff in the proper methods for handling and displaying the museum's collection. A conservator in an art museum may also teach courses in conservation to the public and to art students.
Students can consider a master's degree in conservation or a related subject. Only a small number of graduate degree programs in conservation exist; however, certificate programs are also available as part of other programs. An undergraduate education that includes courses in chemistry, material science, art history and archaeology can prepare the student for advanced education in conservation techniques. Candidates for a conservator position must have experience in addition to a master's degree education; besides teaching conservation principles, programs may include instruction in the structure of artwork, the technology behind the creation of art and materials science as it relates to art.
Some conservators enter the field after completing an apprenticeship program with a museum or organization or with an individual private conservator. While apprenticeship programs aren't common, it may be an alternative path toward a career.
Salary and Job Outlook
The BLS groups data for conservators alongside that of registrars, also known as museum technicians. This group earned an average annual salary of $44,880 as of 2015, according to the BLS. Those employed by museums made an average of $41,520. Conservators and museum technicians should see 5% job growth from 2014-2024, per the BLS.
A registrar, also called a museum technician, works under the direction of the curator to prepare exhibitions and maintain the museum's collection. The registrar also answers questions from the public, prepares the collection for travel to other museums and oversees the unpacking of objects. This person also reports on the condition and status of art objects to the curator.
Museums look for candidates with an undergraduate education in a field related to the museum's specialty, such as art history or fine arts. Students may complete courses in museum studies while pursuing an undergraduate degree; those who want a degree in museum studies would need to pursue their education at the master's level. Previous experience working in a museum is usually essential for employment.
Salary and Job Outlook
Like conservators, museum technicians made an average annual salary of $44,880 in 2015, with those employed by museums earning an average of $41,520. Job growth of 5% from 2014-2024 was expected for these workers.
The majority of archivists, curators, conservators, and museum technicians work in an institution such as a museum or historical site, so if you are interested in finding work in an art museum, these might be a few careers to consider. Most require graduate studies in a relevant field, although an undergraduate degree might be sufficient for a technician job.