What Are the Different Types of Museum Curators?

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  • Written By: Maggie Worth
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2019
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Museum curators are responsible for a museum's collection, including acquiring pieces and maintaining the exhibits. These professionals may also perform research and write pieces for professional journals. In general, there are two different types of curator jobs. General curators are responsible for the entire museum, while section curators are responsible only for one specific area. Both types of curator job exist across a variety of museum types.

In smaller museums, there is usually only one curator. He will manage the acquisitions, collections and exhibits, perform research, write papers, and he also might work with the community. In a large institution, the general museum curator job also includes management of all the section curators.

Section museum curators are usually employed only by large museums or by museums that have highly specific collections within their general collection. Section curators may be called by a number of different names, including area curators, segment curators, and collection curators. These types of museum curators also care for the items in the collection, request acquisitions, and set up exhibits. Unlike general curators, however, section curators are responsible for only a portion of the exhibits within the museum. In many cases, a large general collection is divided by specialty and assigned to a section curator.


Both types of museum curators can be employed by many museum types. Some of the most common include art, history, and science. In a large art museum, for example, there might be a general curator, a modern art curator, a primitives curator, and a Renaissance curator. In a science museum, a natural science curator, a chemical science curator, and an astrophysics curator might support the general curator.

Specialty museums also require curators. Such museums might be devoted to aerospace, trains, teddy bears, buttons, archaeology, medicine, or any number of other things. Themes might also be related to memorabilia from a book or movie, or might relate specifically to the local geography where they are located.

In any museum that accepts donations, museum curators must often work with potential donors, both in terms of cash donations and of items donated for the collection. This can include attending benefits or being a part of one-on-one meetings. It can also mean giving lectures or tours of the museum.

One other type of curator is occasionally in demand: a special collections curator. This highly specialized role requires the curator to be responsible either for all special collections that come into the museum on loan or for a specific traveling exhibit. In the latter case, the curator actually travels from location to location with the collection. While he works out of whichever museum in which the exhibit is currently displayed, he is an employee of the museum or private collector who owns the collection.


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