Museum Curator Skills List and Examples
Museum Curators Skills for Resumes, Job Applications, and Interviews
Museum curators acquire and protect museum collections and present these items to the public. Many also raise money for their museum and create educational materials associated with their collections. Curation involves a very wide assortment of tasks and requires both very deep and very broad expertise.
Although pay can sometimes be low, and hours might be long and varied, curators often express very high levels of job satisfaction. They get to work on subjects they are passionate about, and they know what they do makes a real difference for communities, and for society.
Curation work can vary a lot, depending on the kind of museum in question. Curators at art museums must be experts in art, art history, and art authentication and conservation. Curators at history museums must be historians. Curators at science museums must have scientific training. But all curation has certain responsibilities in common and therefore requires certain consistent skills.
How to become a Museum Curator
Although some small, local museums may be curated by self-taught volunteers, professional curation requires a masters’ degree in any of several relevant fields. Students who have not yet completed their degrees often find work as assistant curators. These student jobs may be critical to having a successful career later on but often carry little or no pay.
Becoming lead curator at a major museum requires both a Ph.D. and at least five years of field experience. The process can be long and difficult, and yet many curators did not set out to get into curation at all. Many trained originally for some other career, such as scientific research or teaching, and discovered that they had accidentally become qualified for curation only when an opportunity opened up.
Technical skills vary based on what kind of materials a museum collects. For example, the curator of an art museum would need to know how to authenticate paintings, while the curator of a natural history museum would need to know how to determine the age of fossils.
Written and Verbal Communication
Communication is a big part of curation. Not only must museum staff work well as a team, requiring good internal communication, but curators must both teach the public and reach out to potential donors. Grant writing has become a major part of the job since public funding for museums has fallen off in recent decades. Writing for the public can include everything from creating specimen labels to producing pamphlets and even books.
Curators also either present talks on the collection or train and supervise those who do. Even creating displays is a form of communication. Most communication with the public falls under the general heading of interpretation skills.
Museum curators are responsible for learning as much about the collection as possible, so as to be able to take care of it properly and so as to be able to pass that information on to the public. Curators also need to be able to recognize whether an object is important enough that the museum should acquire it and whether objects are even genuine.
All of these tasks require both direct investigation of the objects themselves, and extensive field research and reading. Curators also have to partner with scientists or scholars who may be either working with the museum’s materials or preparing materials that the museum might want to either acquire or accept on loan.
Major museums employ large curation staffs. The lead curator must manage the entire team. That includes delegation, priority-setting, budgeting, coordinating, maintaining standards, and properly training new team members. Creative problem-solving is important since anything from pest infestations to personnel disputes might otherwise threaten the collection or the museum’s educational mission. Many lead curators do very little direct work on the collections at all. Most of their time and energy goes into keeping track of what other team members are doing and ensuring that all necessary bases are covered.
Museum Curator Skills List
Here is a list of skills required for museum curation. You can use this list to determine whether you have the potential to get into this line of work.
A - D
- Active Listening
- Aesthetic Sensibility
- Appraising Art
- Acquisition Management
- Building Relationships with Constituents
- Collection Development
- Collection Management
- Community Outreach
- Conducting Tours
- Conservation Preventative Maintenance
- Conservation Treatment
- Cultivating Donors
- Detail Orientation
- Developing Budgets
- Developing Funding Proposals
- Developing Interpretive Materials
- Developing Procedures
- Discrete with Confidential Information
- Donor Cultivation
E - L
- Educational Programming
- Establish Collection Management Policies
- Evaluating Strengths and Weaknesses of Collections
- Exhibit Content Development
- Exhibit Development
- Exhibit Design
- Exhibit Implementation
- Exhibit Preparation
- Fostering an Appreciation of Art
- Influencing Others
M - P
- Maintain Exhibit Calendar
- Manage Exhibits
- Monitoring Finances
- Motivating Others
- Orchestrating Events
- Preparing Press Releases
- Project Management
- Public Programming
R - W
- Record Keeping
- Recruiting Staff and Volunteers
- Relationship Building
- Soliciting Acquisitions
- Staging Exhibits
- Strategic Thinking
- Working Independently