What Does an Art Gallery Registrar Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a woman holding a piece of artwork, and the artwork on the walls has the job descriptions on them. Text reads:

Image by Michela Buttignol © The Balance 2019

Art gallery registrars track the gallery’s inventory and deal with international shipping and customs procedures for the gallery’s works of art. They manage incoming and outgoing objects of art.

There was a time when art gallery registrars were employed by larger institutions to do only these tasks, but numerous smaller galleries and museums are now hiring for this role, albeit with expanded responsibilities to also preserve, interpret, and display works of art.

Art Gallery Registrar Duties & Responsibilities

Responsibilities can depend on the institution for which they work, but some common duties include:

  • Packing and preparing works of art for shipment
  • Managing international transportation and customs procedures as artworks are shipped to temporary exhibitions, such as overseas art fairs
  • Following up on the location of works, and communicating with shippers, art handlers, suppliers, storage handlers, insurers, and customs officers
  • Preparing works for gallery exhibitions and art fairs
  • Dealing with collectors and exhibitors
  • Writing condition reports
  • Maintaining the art gallery's computer database to track sales information
  • Managing the calendar and gallery schedule for viewings, meetings, shipping, and exhibition installation and deinstallation
  • Managing and overseeing loans of artwork to other institutions
  • Caring for and preserving works of art

Art gallery registrars can also find themselves giving tours of the gallery and its works.

Art Gallery Registrar Salary

Salaries can depend on the area in which a registrar specializes, as well as by institution and by location. Overall, median incomes in 2018 were: 

  • Median Annual Income: $46,749 ($22.48/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Income: More than $72,000 ($34.62/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Income: Less than $22,499 ($10.81/hour)

Source: ZipRecruiter

Education, Training & Certification

Those aspiring to a career as an art gallery registrar should ideally have a college degree and some related experience.

  • Education: Working in an art gallery in any administrative capacity usually requires a bachelor's degree that provides the basic skills of communication and business management.
  • Experience: Previous experience working in the world of art can include shipping, or performing administrative tasks in an art gallery or auction house.

Art Gallery Registrar Skills & Competencies

Success in this field often requires the following skills and attributes:

  • Multitasking: You'll probably find that you're charged with overseeing various projects and events on any given day, or even within any given hour.
  • Organizational skills: You'll be managing numerous details of the shipping and acquisition processes, including manage the paperwork to ship works overseas.
  • Computer skills: It will be necessary for you to manage databases and track the location of works of art, often using information management systems.
  • Interpersonal skills: You'll be interacting with both exhibitors and collectors...and their egos and needs.
  • Detail-oriented: This skill is important if you're charged with restoration or physical care of priceless artworks.

Being knowledgeable in international fine art shipping and domestic and international customs procedures is vitally necessary for this position.

Job Outlook

Various career opportunities exist for art gallery staff. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, overall employment opportunities for arts professionals such as those working in art galleries and museums is projected to grow by about 12% from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than average for all occupations. This is at least partially due to an increasing public interest in art.

Work Environment

Environment can vary depending on the job requirements of the institution. The role of registrar can sometimes require a fair deal of interaction with collectors and exhibitors and some travel to evaluate, but overall, however, this is a desk job.

Work Schedule

This is generally a full-time job that requires working regular business hours. You can expect to work weekends when and if the gallery is open, as well as some national holidays for the same reason. Galleries don't tend to close for lesser holidays Columbus Day.

Dealing with emergencies can require putting in some evening hours until the issues are resolved.

How to Get the Job

DRESS THE PART

Image plays an important role in the business of operating an art gallery because the goal is to entice potential collectors to buy artwork. Presenting yourself professionally will help you to be seriously considered for the position of an art gallery registrar. Visit the gallery ahead of time to understand how to present yourself when applying for a job there.

VOLUNTEER TO GAIN EXPERIENCE

Start out part-time, even if as a volunteer, to gain much-needed experience. This can be especially important if your college degree isn't in a related field.

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