Art Curator: Job Description and Education Requirements

May 07, 2021

Art is an important part of human history and expression, and an art curator helps bring works of art to the public eye. A curator generally needs at least a master's degree, though requirements vary depending on the art institution. Hands-on work experience is also an asset.

Essential Information

Art curators acquire art collections for organizations like museums and history centers in addition to organizing and maintaining exhibitions. A graduate degree and work experience is often required for art curator positions, however, a bachelor's degree is sometimes accepted. Technical skills and a background in business, science or another discipline may also be required.

Required Education Master's degree often required; bachelor's degree is sufficient for some positions; doctorate needed for certain jobs
Other Requirements Experience usually needed; technical, scientific or business knowledge may also be necessary
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 13% for all curators
Median Salary (2020)* $56,990 annually for all curators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Description

Art curators collect art works and organize them for exhibition or storage. They also care for the art, ensure its safety and preserve it. Art curators often work in museums, botanical gardens, zoos, art galleries or historic sites, and they may travel significantly to assess prospective artworks for a collection or organize other exhibitions.

Job Duties

Exhibitions of various art works, which involves displaying and labeling each piece, are designed by art curators. These professionals also conduct public and private tours and showings of art works and instruct educational workshops. Each art piece is carefully maintained by the art curator, who keeps inventory of all the art pieces. This may involve conducting dating tests or X-ray tests to determine the source or originality.

Art curators sometimes travel to various parts of the country or world in search of new art. They meet with directors to determine budgets, negotiate purchase prices and approve payments. Art curators also authorize lending or borrowing art collections from other organizations.

Art curators write and review grant proposals and publicity materials that bring in funding for the art establishment. They also attend events and meetings to bring awareness to the public about the establishment and its current exhibitions.

Salary and Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), curators in general earned a median annual wage of $56,990 in 2020. The top-paying states for art curators were District of Columbia, California and Alaska. The BLS predicted a much faster than average job growth for curators from 2019-2029.

Education Requirements

While a master's degree in art history or a related field is generally required by many museums, educational requirements may vary substantially based on the organization. For example, large institutions may require an applicant to have a doctorate, while small art museums may consider a candidate with a bachelor's degree. Art history coursework usually includes studies in artistic styles, time periods, architecture, photography, painting, sculpture and global markets. Graduate coursework generally requires additional classes in history, theory and curatorial methods, along with research and a dissertation.

Previous work experience is required by most organizations, and students can participate in internships to gain hands-on training working with an experienced art curator. Additionally, expertise in restoration methods, chemistry and public relations can be beneficial for aspiring art curators, as well as technological skills for digital record keeping and information dissemination via the Internet. Having knowledge in marketing, business and a foreign language also can make art curator candidates more attractive to employers.

Art curation can involve travel, research, paperwork and marketing. Earning a master's degree in art history can qualify you for most jobs, though some may require a doctorate and others only a bachelor's degree. It's wise to seek out internships and other work experiences before entering the job market.

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