JOB PROFILE: Museum/Art Gallery Curator

Qualifications and courses

Entrants to this profession often have a relevant degree in a subject such as archaeology, history of art, heritage management, fine art or archive and museum studies. However, a number of entrants have degrees in other academic fields, such as English literature or languages. Typical degree entry requirements include 2 A levels/3 H grades and 5 GCSEs/National 5s (C or above, or 4 or above in England).

As competition for entry-level jobs is very high, many candidates increasingly have a postgraduate qualification in museum, gallery or heritage studies. To study at this level you will need at least a 2.1 in your undergraduate degree.

Employers will also require you to have relevant paid or voluntary work experience. Details of opportunities to volunteer are available through the Museums Association, the National Trust and English Heritage.

Many curators continue their studies while working and undertake a master's degree or doctorate (PhD) in their specialist area, such as Egyptology. Short training courses and professional development schemes are often provided by museums, galleries and the Museums Association (MA). The National Gallery and Art Fund also run two Curatorial Traineeships. The Archives and Records Association has a list of organisations offering paid and volunteer placements. Once employed you may also wish to study for a Diploma in Cultural Heritage (Levels 2, 3 and 5).


What the work involves

You will manage and maintain collections of artworks, historical objects or documents. Curators usually have specialist knowledge of a specific historical or cultural field such as women's history, textiles or archaeology. You will research and write about the collections in your care.

You might be responsible for thinking of ways in which you can gain funding for your museum/gallery. You will also organise exhibit loans with other museums/galleries.

You will work with other museum/gallery staff to plan exhibitions using items and information from your collection. You may also give talks to members of the public at special events.


Type of person suited to this work

You will need a good knowledge of history and of your specialist area of art/culture. You must be able to communicate this information to other staff and be a confident public speaker. You may lecture at educational events so enthusiasm for your subject is essential.

You will need good written communication skills for writing reports. IT skills are increasingly important in this area, for example when managing collection information through specialist databases. You should be organised, careful and have good attention to detail. The ability to work in a team and foster relationships with local and national organisations is also important.


Working conditions

Curators generally work 37 hours a week, however these hours may be extended for special exhibitions and private showings. Freelance and consultancy work is common.

This job will probably involve weekend or evening work. You may have to be on call to respond to emergencies at the gallery/museum.

Working environments vary depending on the size, location and popularity of the gallery/museum. You will work indoors on a daily basis. There may be some heavy lifting and carrying involved when exhibits need to be moved.


Future prospects

Museum/gallery work is a competitive area in which to develop a career as staff turnover is low, but it offers a variety of interesting roles.

You could work your way up in some larger organisations but often you will need to move employers or geographical location in order to move up the career ladder.

From working as an assistant curator, you could progress into a curator's role. You could then move on to work as a senior curator or go into managing museums/galleries or historic buildings, or consultancy work.


Advantages/disadvantages

This job provides the satisfaction of working closely with works of art and historical objects, some of which can be very valuable.

You will help create exhibitions and then watch the public enjoy them.

Gaining necessary funding and adhering to budget restrictions may be difficult.


Money guide

Salaries vary according to the location, size and type of employer.

A museum or art gallery curatorial assistant can expect a starting salary of £18,000–£25,000.

An experienced curator can earn between £25,000 and £35,000.

As a senior curator, with high levels of responsibility, you could achieve up to or in excess of £40,000 per year.


Further information


Content generously provided by Indigo Trotman.


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