Careers in Museums

Jan 25, 2011

Museums are great places to visit, but have you ever thought about the work that goes into making them so interesting? A team of professionals is responsible for making every museum appealing and informative for its guests. If you love going to museums, you might also enjoy working in them. There are a variety of careers available to museum enthusiasts. Read this article to learn more!

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Curator

Curators are responsible for bringing together the elements of a museum's collection. This can involve overseeing the procurement of paintings and sculptures in an art museum, working to determine the best kinds of displays to include in a children's science museum or securing the import of artifacts in a history museum. While working on a specific exhibit, the curator often acts as the manager of the entire process of bringing displays together while consulting with all exhibit staff members to ensure specific plans are being followed. Curators typically need at least a master's degree, though many hold doctoral degrees. There are specialized degree programs in curatorial and museum studies for those interested in pursuing this career.

Exhibit Designer

The layout of an exhibit may not be something that many museum goers really notice or analyze, but that doesn't mean there wasn't any hard work or thought put into the displays that visitors see. Exhibit designers work in all kinds of museums to determine the best way to display objects. They may focus on a combination of factors, including historical accuracy, educational value, crowd flow problems and object presentation. Exhibit elements like informative placards or interactive media might be the work of an exhibit designer. These professionals may either work in-house for a museum, or they may work for a private exhibit design firm. Exhibit designers typically work directly with curators to plan the contents and layout of an exhibit.

Conservator

Conservators are the first line of defense against the decay and corrosion of the ancient and antique artifacts housed in many museums' collections. These professionals work to stall or reverse the process of aging in objects, like books, ceramics, paintings, clothing, jewelry and the personal effects of famous persons. The specific objects conservators work with will likely vary by museum type, but all of these experts need similar skills. Conservators use their knowledge of objects' chemical composition to protect a museum's collection from harm. Because of this, conservators usually need training in chemistry, in addition to formal education in the practice of object conservation.

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Preparator

Preparators do a lot of the physical labor that goes into making a museum exhibit happen. Their tasks may include transferring objects for display from museum storage to the exhibition space and hanging exhibit objects and information on the wall. Preparators might work directly with exhibit designers and curators to ensure all components of an exhibit are properly and safely displayed. They might also pack or unpack items shipped to and from other museums, making sure that the packed items are not damaged in the process.

Docent

Though docents are usually volunteers, some museums offer paid positions in this area. It is a docent's job to serve as an educational ambassador to museum guests. This can mean leading formal tours through the museum, or simply standing by in an exhibit space, ready to answer questions as they come up. Even in cases when docents are unpaid volunteers, the position requires extensive knowledge of an exhibit or of the museum's collection as a whole. Some museums require their docents to go through a combined audition and training process that can take months to complete. If you are considering a future as a museum curator or other museum professional, you may want to think about working as a docent. This experience can help you learn whether museum work is really what you want; it can also help you gain valuable hands-on experience with museum operations.

Sales and Marketing

In order for a museum to stay open, it must bring in tourists and paying patrons. If you enjoy making sales and providing customer service, you can combine that with your love of museums and work in the sales and marketing department. You would perform various duties, such as generating sales leads, selling group tours, coordinating requests for visits, handling inquiries from customers, generating sales data, and producing status reports. Business majors with experience in sales or marketing may be particularly well suited for this career path.

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