Curators are in charge of a collection of exhibits in a museum or art gallery. Their job is to build up collections, often in specialist areas. Curators develop ways in which objects, archives and artworks can be interpreted, through exhibitions, publications, events and audio-visual presentations. Their work involves buying exhibits, organising exhibitions, arranging restoration of artifacts, organising loans, identification as well as recording of items and dealing with enquiries. All these tasks require curators to work with other colleagues in conservation, education, design and marketing departments, for example. In addition, they may conduct research and may lecture on findings or ongoing activities.
- Developing and organising new collections to expand and improve educational and research facilities
- Researching extensively, negotiating on prices and buying items such as sculptures, statues and paintings that can add value to the collection
- Maintaining records and cataloguing acquisitions
- Researching, compiling and preparing written information about catalogues and publishing it on the institution's website
- Collaborating with other institutions
- Ensuring that collections are properly preserved
- Raising funds and grants
- Interviewing, hiring and training staff.
Travel: is occasional, including overseas.
Working hours: mainly daytime, although can involve evenings/weekends.
Location: opportunities exist mainly in towns or cities throughout the country.
Opportunities for self-employment: unlikely.
National museums/galleries, local authority museums/galleries, independent museums/galleries, heritage centres.
Northern Ireland: See the Museums Association guidelines.
Low pay is widely recognised as a major problem for the sector. Museum pay is falling behind that of comparable sectors, and is barely keeping up with the cost of living.
A university degree, usually at honours level, is essential for the majority of curatorial positions. Many curators would also hold postgraduate degrees or diplomas.
Specific degree subjects required
Open to graduates of all disciplines.
Other relevant degree subjects
- Art history
- Arts administration
- Event/exhibition management
Many (but by no means all) museums and galleries like to recruit staff with postgraduate museum-studies, arts administration or similar qualifications. The sector is becoming increasingly professionalised and there are now a number of postgraduate programmes available.
The Irish Museums Association runs a programme of relevant training events to meet the needs of those working across the museum and cultural/heritage area throughout Ireland.
Tips for applications
Some museums run volunteer programmes or offer work placements, so anyone interested in following this career should try to spend some time on such a placement. Some curators may be required to travel, so a driving licence can be useful. Experience in public relations would be an advantage.
Skills and qualities
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills
- Ability to organise, present and communicate messages effectively through design
- Excellent project management and organisational skills
- Knowledge of fundraising for cultural projects
- Knowledge of working with museum databases and IT issues
- Knowledge of local authority structures and practices
- Knowledge of structure and practices of heritage councils
- Good team-working skills
- Excellent research and IT skills.