The role of a curator is broad and varies across different types of art institutions.
Where a curator is employed by a public museum or gallery that holds a collection of artworks, their role will typically involve managing, developing and cataloguing the collection. They will have a responsibility to make sure that the work is kept and displayed appropriately and that the collection is made available to people who want to see it or study it (as not all of the works in a museum or gallery’s collection will be on display at the same time). The curator might use work from the gallery’s own collection or borrow works from other institutions or private collectors in order to arrange exhibitions around a particular theme. In many cases curators will have a specialist subject knowledge and be an expert on the type of artwork that features within the collection. As well as organising exhibitions, the curator will also research and interpret the collection and may work alongside an education team to make sure that the work appeals to and informs a wide range of visitors. Other parts of the job can include: marketing and writing press releases, fundraising, education programming, budgeting, and managing assistants or volunteers.
Where a curator works for a gallery that does not hold a collection, their role may come with greater responsibilities for the overall development of the gallery’s artistic programme. As well as working closely with artist and the director of the space to put together exhibitions, they will often also programme events, residencies and off-site projects. Their role may include: researching ideas for exhibitions, commissions and the public programme; commissioning new artworks; working with artists to support their development; fundraising; overseeing the installation and transportation of artworks; contributing to the strategic direction of the gallery; and building and maintaining partnerships.
There are also a number of freelance or independent curators who are not employed by a museum or gallery but instead work directly with artists or collectors to produce their own exhibitions and activity within or outside of major institutions.
How do you become an art curator?
Many art curators will have a degree in art, art history or museum studies. Some may also have an MA in curating or an MA or PhD in their specialist subject.
Get experience by self-organising exhibitions or working within a museum or gallery as a curatorial assistant. Some institutions now offer paid curatorial traineeships as a way into the profession.
What skills do you need?
An in-depth knowledge of art, art history, exhibition histories
Good communication skills - both written and verbal
Attention to detail and organisational skills
An ability to work to budgets and deadlines
A willingness to learn throughout your career
An ability to manage a team and delegate tasks
Strong interpersonal skills
Confidence to work independently and as part of a team
An ability to undertake independent and relevant research
Experience of programming events
An ability to work with a broad range of audiences
Look up other roles in the visual arts including: