How to Be an Art Curator: Education and Career Roadmap

Mar 05, 2020

Research the requirements to become an art curator. Learn about the job description and duties and explore the step-by-step process to start a career in art curation.

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Should I Become an Art Curator?

Art curators are employed by museums and art galleries to design, develop and manage installations and exhibits. This requires them to acquire works of art, ensure proper storage and help maintain museum collections.

Art curators typically specialize in specific areas of art, like Western, Asian or contemporary art. The job duties of a curator are vast. They may put on public events like lectures and workshops, write grants and conduct fundraising activities. In addition, they conduct research projects and write papers for publication.

Often, museum directors double as art curators, particularly in small institutions with few staff members Because of the vast set of job duties, the job skills required for art curators are broad. Art curators must be highly creative, technologically adept and effective communicators, since they sometimes deal with challenging employees and patrons. They must have strong critical thinking, analytical, computer and organizational skills.

The career requires advanced education and, depending on the employer, may involve travel.

The earnings can be rewarding, depending on the industry in which you work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, curators in general earned a median annual salary of $53,780 as of May 2018.

Degree Level Master's degree is generally required; some employers look for curators with PhDs
Degree Field Art or museum studies, though you can also earn degrees in art history, history or archaeology
Experience Some entry-level positions are available, but art curators are usually required to have approximately three to five years of experience or more
Key Skills Analytical, critical-thinking, organizational, and customer service skills; proficiency with database user interface and query software, desktop publishing software, graphics imaging software and project management software; dexterity with screwdrivers, mat cutters and utility knives
Salary (2018) $53,780 per year (median salary for all curators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Association of Museums job postings (July 2012), O*Net Online.

Now let's look at the steps art curators take to enter this career.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The first step toward a career as an art curator is completing undergraduate school. Aspiring curators typically major in a variety of different undergraduate disciplines, like art history or archaeology, prior to applying to graduate schools. No specific degree field is required, though a strong liberal arts background and coursework in art history are often necessary. For example, art history majors receive a broad education in the subject and study a wide range of periods and styles of art and architecture, such as Greek art, Medieval art, Italian and Baroque art, 19th and 20th century art, graphic design, and art and gender. Because art curators are responsible for managing a budget and coordinating fundraising efforts, undergraduates may find it helpful to take coursework in business, math and English.

Success Tip:

  • Study a foreign language in preparation for grad school admission. Graduate students are often required to know one or more foreign languages. Students in bachelor's degree programs can take courses in French, German, Spanish, Italian and other languages in preparation for graduate study.

Step 2: Attain an Advanced Degree

Once you've completed undergraduate school, you may move on to graduate school. Employers generally prefer to hire art curators with either a master's or a doctoral degree in art history, which generally allows students to specialize in a specific geographic area or type of art, like 20th century art, American art, drawing or sculpture.

A graduate degree typically requires a completion of a master's thesis or doctoral dissertation, as well as a minimum proficiency level in one or more foreign languages. Aspiring art curators can also earn a graduate degree in museum studies, which teaches students about museum management, collection development and conservation.

Success Tips:

During your graduate studies, take time to hone the appropriate skills:

  • Develop your professional skills to gain proficiency with a range of software, including desktop publishing, project management, graphics imaging, database and query software. Additionally, you may want to develop your communication skills with speech and communications classes to prepare for a career speaking with patrons, donors and art students.
  • Gain work experience. Aspiring art curators can complete a curation internship, which provides hands-on learning in managing and developing art exhibits and installations, as well as the planning and administrative processes involved in running a museum.
  • Complete teaching assistantships to develop leadership and communication skills. Some employers prefer candidates with teaching experience.

Step 3: Obtain Employment

After completing graduate school, its time to seek employment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that entry-level art curators may have their best chance of employment in a museum or arts organization in a smaller community. This environment allows new art curators to develop primary skills and experience, which can qualify you for employment at a large museum. Art curators can also advance in the field by conducting research and publishing their work.

Success Tip:

  • Seek continuing professional development education. The American Association of Museums offers professional development classes, lectures and seminars for museum professionals. These learning opportunities offer continuing education and networking possibilities.

To become an art curator, you generally need an undergraduate and graduate degree in or related to art history. Experience in an internship can also be beneficial to gaining entry-level employment with a museum or arts organization.

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