What is an art curator?
Simply put, a curator is a manager or overseer at a cultural institution, such as an art gallery or museum. He/she is essentially a content specialist responsible for this institution’s collections, be it paintings, film, sculptures, and more.
What does a curator do?
Depending on the size of the institution and genre, a curator may have a wide array of responsibilities. A curator will be in charge of acquiring and securing objects for a collection. For each cohesive collection e/she will:
- Make decisions regarding what items to collect
- Oversee the care and documentation of these items
- Conduct research
- Ensure the safety of items for travel
- Decide how the collection will be displayed
- Interpret the collection
- Present his/her findings and research with the general public
Curators must all oversee the integrity of each item to make sure they are preserving and storing them correctly. Curators may also be heavily involved in grant writing in order to procure funding for their institution.
In small galleries, the curator may be the only paid position, and in a larger museum, there may be multiple curators with defined specialties, such as contemporary art or digital art, who all work under a head curator who oversees the entire team. Oftentimes, a famous guest curator may work with a museum or significant gallery
A curatorial committee is a team of curators who join forces for a specific institution or project.
Sometimes these committees are formed by curators with the same specialty and act almost like a club where one is a member. These types of committees will speak with the public about their specific field in order to garner attention and publicity.
Curator education and training
Typically one does not go to college knowing they will be a curator one day. It’s said that becoming a curator is something most fall into because of their love for their subject matter. Curators generally hold a higher degree, such as a Masters or a Doctorate degree in their given field, like philosophy, art history, archeology, anthropology, or classics. Curators are expected to have a high level of knowledge and experience in their given field and typically are well-known in their industry due to numerous publications, articles, or public presentations on their personal research.
The market to become a curator is quite high, and most well-known institutions only consider those with several years of experience on top of a PhD in their specialty. Curators must have skills in aesthetic design, public speaking, fund-raising, organization, and business. Being fluent in a second language is useful. Also, because most curators come from a strictly art background, having some skill or experience in managing others will be beneficial when leading a team of volunteers or interns.