Art Museum Director Job Profile

First Lady Michelle Obama talks with Director and Chief Curator Thelma Golden during a tour of the Studio Museum in Harlem

An art museum director is an expert in understanding the museum's mission and collection. With this expertise, the director leads and manages the museum.


An art museum director is like the CEO of a company. The art museum director is responsible for running the museum which includes planning, organizing, staffing, funding and directing the museum.

A museum director typically oversees all levels of a museum's operations such as its annual budget, financial and fundraising aspects, plus exhibition planning, programming and development.

A director also oversees the various departments such as visitor services, education, sales, marketing, and manages the museum staff which may include conservators, curators, preparators, and others.

A museum director is either appointed by a governmental body or elected by a board of trustees.

Skills Needed

Art museum directors are experts specializing in the museum's collection.

Besides being passionate and extremely knowledgeable about the museum's collection, a museum director has supreme managerial, financial, and business skills, as fundraising is a big part of the job.

A museum director must be a skilled communicator and mediator in order to work well with the museum's board or governmental overseers, its staff, donors and sponsors, and the public.

Education Needed

Art museum directors have at least a graduate degree in fine art, art history or museum studies. However, a doctoral degree on the museum's specialty or two graduate degrees is quite common in this competitive field.

Tools Needed

An art museum director is curator, director, and business manager all rolled into one. There are no tools per se, but rather professional skills, education, and experience are the requirements for this job.

The museum director is responsible for all aspects of operations including budgeting, fundraising and financial controls, programming and exhibition development, and maintaining and researching the collection.

How to Be Hired

To be hired as a museum director typically requires several years of museum management experience, in addition to the educational qualifications. One way to acquire such experience is to start off at a small regional museum to gain experience and knowledge.

Notable Art Museum Directors

  • Alfred H. Barr, Jr. was the first director of New York's Museum of Modern Art (1929–1943) and helped to make modern art accessible to the public. His 1935 blockbuster exhibition of Van Gogh's work helped to make the artist a household name.​
  •  Since 2000, Thelma Golden has been the Director and Chief Curator at The Studio Museum in Harlem.

Gender Gap in Art Museum Directorships

Even though both men and women work as art museum directors, there seem to be some discrepancies in pay and status.

According to a 2014 report published by the Association of Art Museum Directors, a gender gap in pay and position existed for Art Museum Directors:

Across all AAMD member museums, women hold less than 50% of directorships, and the average female director’s salary lags behind that of the average male director. The overall disparities in the number of female art museum directors and in their salaries are mostly driven by the largest museums. These museums have operating budgets of more than $15 million...