How do I Become a Curator?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 December 2019
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Becoming a curator, especially one who works in the top of the field at institutions like the British Museum and the Smithsonian, requires a lot of work. Top curators usually have doctorate degrees and postgraduate work in addition to considerable experience. Even curation at a lower level usually requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree along with extensive experience. Someone who wants to become a curator, in other words, should plan on spending a long time in school.

Curators can work with lots of different types of collections, and this is something to think about at the start of one's education. Someone who wants to curate at an art gallery, for example, should study art history, and consider taking specialized courses to gain experience in a particular area, like 18th century Japanese woodcuts, or 20th century German art. Someone who wants to work in a museum handling collections of artifacts from ancient cultures, on the other hand, might consider cultural anthropology as an area of study.


While an undergraduate, someone who wants to become a curator should get practical experience. Internships in museums, art galleries, libraries, and special collections should be used to build experience, and some curators also enjoy opportunities for fieldwork, such as working on archaeological expeditions. It is important for a curator to understand how items are sourced and collected, and to be familiar with the chemistry and science behind their work as well as the cultural impact of works of art and artifacts.

With a bachelor's degree and experience, someone can enter a master's program to become a curator. Some educational institutions offer programs specifically geared to curators, while others offer more topical art history, anthropology, and related topics. Someone who wants to become a curator should know what sort of collections she or he wants to work with so that they can be studied in graduate school. Someone who wants to work on early Roman history, for example, should not be studying the Mayan civilization in graduate school.

Some curators find work with a master's degree. Small regional museums and art galleries may find this sufficient qualification. If someone has a specific workplace of interest, it can be advisable to talk to them about the traits they look for in a curator. It is also possible to find jobs as a museum technician, restorer, or curatorial assistant in a larger museums with a master's degree.

However, getting a doctorate and completing postgraduate work will make a curator more employable. It is also advisable to work, if possible, in an area of interest while completing the degree. This can also lay the groundwork for a full time job. For example, someone who works in a national museum as a graduate student may be more likely to be considered for a position there when one opens up. Once someone has become a curator, the qualification can also be applied to work such as valuing items for auction houses and handling private collections.


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Post 1

Actually, getting a doctorate will not make you more employable. I had my last curatorial job six years ago and worked on a project for a couple of years that had little do do with that sort of work, but they did want someone savvy and educated.

But now it is finished, and I'm still looking for museum employment while suffering abuse from a man who supports me. I cannot even get a regular cleaning job. Although I use an alias, it is very hard to get work. At least I didn't borrow any money to get all this education.

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