Becoming a Curator: Job Description & Salary Information

About this article
A curator's median annual salary is around $51,000, but is it worth the lengthy educational requirements? Read about real job duties and get the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming a curator is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Curator

As a curator, you might be in charge of a museum or gallery, working with historical artifacts, exotic materials, art or memorabilia. Continue reading to learn more about the pros and cons of working as a curator to help you decide if this is the right career for you.

Pros of Becoming a Curator
Average job growth projected (13% increase from 2012-2022)*
Potential for high pay for experienced workers (top 90% earned more than $89,000 as of May 2014)*
Positions found in a variety of fields*
Chance to work with exotic and historic artifacts*

Cons of Becoming Curator
Career stability may rely on grants, fundraising or donations*
Strong competition for jobs*
Some employers require high levels of education*
Some duties may require you to work in isolation*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career Information

Job Duties

Once materials are obtained, curators are expected to plan, design, promote and maintain public exhibitions. Additional duties may include classifying and cataloguing materials, writing grant proposals, directing museum technicians, initiating research projects, organizing tours and assisting in museum budget management. You may also be expected to authenticate materials and ensure their proper storage.

Career Prospects and Salary

According to the BLS, this field was expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations, with a 13% increase in jobs projected from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). Positions in this field were expected to grow due to an anticipated rise in museum attendance and increased public interest in related fields. Job prospects should be best for those with experience and training. According to a May 2014 BLS report, curators earned a median salary of $51,280.

Education Requirements

Most employers prefer that you hold at least a master's degree to be considered for employment; however, if you'd like to work in a small museum, you may only need a bachelor's degree. While most employers require a background in their specialized field, such as art or history, some colleges offer programs specifically in museum studies. These programs cover topics in adapting museum culture and systems to the digital age, exhibition strategies, marketing special exhibits, materials management, exhibit planning and placement, artifact preservation and handling manuscripts. By the end of your education, you may also be familiar with museum law, artifact education, archival systems and potential ethical predicaments.

Job Posting from Real Employers

Some employers look for candidates who have previous experience in museum administration, long-range exhibitions and academic research. You may also need to have experience publishing articles and properly cleaning some special exhibits. Although this isn't a comprehensive look at the field, the following examples were what employers were advertising for in April 2012:

  • A library and museum in Virginia was looking for a curator who would be able to maintain artifact documentation and track museum budgets.
  • A museum in Baltimore advertised for a curator who was skillful in attracting donations for exhibitions and developing field-related publications.
  • An art museum in Boca Raton was searching for someone who was able to compile materials for presentations and develop traveling exhibitions.
  • A museum in Savannah was looking for an art curator who had a background in developing and installing exhibition projects.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

Although many employers may require you to have a master's-level education, earning a doctoral degree could provide additional opportunities. The BLS recommends that your doctoral education come from a natural history, museum sciences or museum studies program. To work in specialized museums, you may want to consider focusing in additional areas related to archeology, botany, art or history. Smaller museums may want you to have a background in marketing, business administration, fundraising and public relations. To develop hands-on experience before entering the field, some programs may offer museum or gallery internships.

Alternative Career Paths

If you'd like to play an active role in finding artifacts, you may be interested in a career as an archeologist. In this role, you would procure and analyze historical artifacts, establish dig sites, preserve archeological evidence, piece together broken materials and write reports relating to findings. Although you can find laboratory and field archeologist positions after earning a bachelor's degree, most positions require you to earn a master's degree. If you're interested in a leadership position, you may need to complete a doctoral program. According to the BLS, as of May 2011, the median salary for archeologists was around $56,000.

Another alternative career is craft or fine artist. As a professional artist, you would come up with creative new ways to produce art, incorporating visual elements into aesthetically pleasing products, developing your own artistic style, finding outlets to sell creations, displaying art to show other people and compiling your art work in a personal portfolio. To become an artist, you aren't required to earn any formal education; however, if you'd like to increase your chances of finding a job, there are colleges that offer bachelor's and master's degree programs in fine arts. As of May 2011, the BLS reported that fine artists earned a median salary of approximately $45,000.

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Kaplan University

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Grand Canyon University

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Johns Hopkins University

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  • Master of Liberal Arts

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Keiser University

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Argosy University

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Baker College Online

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City University of Seattle

  • B.S. General Studies

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