What Is an Art Curator?

Artist and art dealers with paintings digital tablet
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In the art world, the title curator identifies a person who selects and often interprets different works of art, whether they be paintings, statues, tapestries, or video art. In addition to selecting works, the curator is often responsible for writing labels, catalog essays, and other content supporting art exhibitions. Art curators have an eye for a variety of art forms and a passion for staging artwork in a way that creates interest in the exhibition space—whether it is small or large, contained within four walls, or staged outdoors.

 

To be an art curator requires multi-tasking because the job entails being responsible for a museum's collection, selecting art to be displayed in a museum, organizing art exhibitions in galleries or public spaces, researching artists, and producing the written material. 

To be successful as an art curator, you should be:

Organized

In addition to working with art and artists, increasingly curators need to work on administrative tasks, such as figuring out exhibition budgets, fundraising, and grant writing.

Passionate

The most successful curators have always had a passion for art and care about the art they exhibit.

Knowledgeable

Curators need to be knowledgeable about art and culture. Many art curators have an educational background in art history and philosophy.

Adept at Multi-Tasking

Today's art curators need to multi-task. They must be skilled in business, marketing, public relations, and fundraising. They also need to be excellent communicators because they often function as the mediator between the museum, artist, and the public.

Proficient in Writing

Art curators need good composition skills because they are charged with writing the exhibition catalog essays, promotional materials, and any other collateral material that the art establishment deems necessary. This material must be accurate in regards to the individual art pieces but not be so esoteric that the general public is unable to understand it.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median salary of art curators is $ 58,830. Those employed at museums, historical sites, and similar institutions earn an average salary of $56,480 (on the low end of the scale) and those working in a government federally-designated institution (like the National Gallary) earn an annual median salary of $84,020 (which is on the high end)

Getting Started as an Art Curator

If you want to learn the nuts and bolts about organizing an art exhibition—from conceptualizing the exhibit to considering the public—there are 10 steps to follow to curate an art exhibition that will prove useful. And, because the art world is highly competitive and fund-raising is always an issue, even for the major institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you'll want to learn how to apply for arts grants and art funding.

The Difference Between Assistant Curators and Chief Curators

  • Art museums use a hierarchical system and typically have one chief curator and several assistant curators reporting to that person.
  • The chief curator oversees all programs, exhibitions, and the museum's collection. The chief curator also manages the staff of assistants.
  • Assistant curators function more like administrative assistants and are tasked with helping the chief curator fulfill the art museum's mission. While the position is administrative, working as an assistant curator presents an excellent opportunity to learn in-depth (and first-hand) what art curators day-in and day-out to curate a major art show.