How to Become a Curator

Curators are responsible for the preservation, collection, care, display, knowledge and research of items that are aesthetic or historical. Historical sites, libraries and museums are all places that collections like this may be found. Curators provide the knowledge and expertise to properly care for and showcase these items. The path to becoming a curator is not typically a short or easy one and you should ask yourself:

working as a curator

Curators work with all different kinds of organizations, and with many different types of art collections

  • Do you have a passion for specific vein of science, art, history or culture?
  • Are you meticulous and dedicated to the study and preservation of items in this vein?
  • Are you able to write well, possibly for grants and fundraising purposes?
  • Are you willing to do what it takes (extensive schooling and experience) to beat the competition?
Master's Degree
Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Choices

When it comes to becoming a curator, there are three major categories with a vast number of specific fields in each one. Here are the three major curator types and the required level of education or expertise for each:


Art Museum Curator

Curators who hope to work in art museums will typically be responsible for a specific time period and style of art. Italian Renaissance, Byzantine, Modern, Dada or any number of art movements make up the collection for which the curator will care for and display. The curator must be very knowledgeable with the specific movement, may be responsible for collecting pieces or coordinating their visit, chooses how to display the art work and decides what information and signs would best explain the pieces.

Required Experience and Education:

  • A master’s degree in art and museum studies is required
  • A doctorate or two graduate degrees is helpful in such a competitive career path
  • Experience as a museum intern or apprentice may be required
  • Joining societies and groups, like the Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC) is a great way to get to know others in the field and learn about opportunities.

Natural History (Science) Museum Curator

Organizing and displaying a huge butterfly collection or helping assemble a dinosaur skeleton, might be the kind of tasks a curator at a science museum would oversee. Museums typically look for a specialist of fish, birds, mollusks or insects to research, display and maintain a specific exhibit. Writing scientific articles, or fundraising for the museum, might also be tasks performed by the curator.

Required Experience and Education:

  • A minimum of a bachelor’s degree—often a graduate level is expected—in a specific scientific field with museum studies
  • Experience as a museum intern or apprentice may be required
  • Study and experience in the specific scientific field may be required

Natural History (History and Culture) Museum and Historical Site Curator

Museums and historical sites that wish to preserve culture and human history hire curators that can preserve and display the items in the collection. Similar to the art and science curators, a curator of culture may organize the collection, raise funds, and decide what information is posted for display.

Required Experience and Education:

  • A bachelor’s or master’s degree in archaeology, anthropology and/or museum studies is usually required.
  • Two graduate degrees in museum studies and a specific area of history is not required, but will put you ahead of the competition in this field
  • Experience as a museum intern or apprentice may be required


Salary and Job Outlook

The average salary for curators in 2012, according to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), was $54,600. Out of 10,370 hired curators, the field of Grantmaking and Giving Services had the highest average salary of $95,810 with 110 employees.

The BLS projects the curator career will see a 16 percent growth from 2010-2020 due to a continued increase of interest and support from the general population in preservation of art, science, and history.


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