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We gain understanding of ourselves by studying the history of ourselves, of the planet, of other cultures and of the universe. Most of the historical artifacts that illustrate the journey of human kind from art, to tools, are kept in museums. And the curators are the keepers of those histories. They are the people who oversee the collections of artifacts and artwork in museums, art galleries, and zoos, ensuring they are safe, well displayed, researched and well documented. Curators also ensure that public programs are available to educate children and adults about the wonders in the collections.

Curators work in museums, art galleries and interpretation centers. They can work with natural objects, human-made artifacts and art from throughout the centuries. They are in charge of the collection, so they decide what the museum will buy, or accept as donation. They arrange for collections to visit from other galleries and museums. They research the items in the collection, publishing papers and giving presentations to the public. If the museum is small, they may give guided tours.

Curators are also in charge of displaying the items in the collection. Museums and art galleries like to put on special exhibits, and these can take a lot of planning and organization, with the curator at the helm. This involves deciding what goes where, how it will be displayed, next to which other artifact or painting, and what sort of lighting, wall color, and air filter system should be used. Because exhibits generally tell a story, the curator will consult with the exhibit designers, guides, and copywriters about the vision they have for the new exhibit.

Large museums or galleries may have a number of curators on staff, with different areas of specialization. So when it comes time for a new dinosaur exhibit to be mounted, or a new set of dinosaur bones arrives at the museum, it is the dinosaur curator who takes the floor. This curator will most likely have training in paleontology, much like the Victorian Era curator will have taken special courses in Victorian customs and history. These specialists will publish research or information about the items in their collection.

Curators often find themselves hard at work on tasks that have little to do with research or history. Instead, they must plan budgets, manage staff, hire new employees, fundraise, organize large galas to promote a new exhibit. They also ensure that adequate publicity is getting out to the public about new exhibits and events.
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  Interests and Skills  
Curators need to be patient, and decisive individuals with good communication, people and teaching skills. Curators need an understanding of other cultures and foreign language skills are helpful but not required. They should have good writing abilities and good eyesight, as well as an eye for color, texture, and design. Curators are interested in art and history, and they have an understanding of various styles, genres and time periods. They have artistic and scientific skills which aid them in this line of work. They require a sensitivity to both the chemical composition, as well as the artistic qualities of an object.. Curators also work as managers, so leadership and organizational skills are beneficial qualities.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Travel to auctions, galleries and estate sales, looking for new acquisitions
  • Examine new artifacts and art pieces
  • Regulate temperature, air filtration systems and humidity in galleries
  • Arrange mounting and display of new pieces
  • Arrange for visiting collections
  • Research items
  • Document research and publish or present information
  • Contact media about new exhibits
  • Manage staff
  • Perform fundraising duties
  • The typical day for a curator will involve a lot of examination of artifacts and art pieces. They will meet with conservation staff, visiting artists, and curators at other sites. Research and documenting research is also a big part of the job. They will tour the museum or gallery, checking that exhibits are properly mounted and cared for. Curators may interact with the public, depending on the size of the institution they work for. Curators will travel to other places to view exhibits, for meetings, and to give and listen to lectures.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Curators can be found anywhere there is a collection of artifacts or art pieces. They can work in large and small museums and galleries, libraries, universities and zoos. They spend most of their time indoors, supervising their staff in a number of projects. They spend their time in offices, in storage rooms, in gallery spaces, and in meeting rooms and lecture halls. They often work late hours, especially if there is an opening or an exhibit going up. They also travel to gallery and museum events, conferences, and on acquisition trips, when they go out looking for new pieces for the collection.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Curators who no longer want to run the show can work behind the scenes as exhibit consultants, designers or researchers. They can find work with various governmental departments. They can become freelance researchers, appraisers and consultants for lobby groups, Native leaders, and writers of historical novels, television, and film scripts. They can also become art teachers, open galleries, or become artists or art dealers.

  Educational Paths  
Educational backgrounds for curators may vary however, curators typically have at least a master's degree, if not a PhD, in art, zoology, paleontology, anthropology or history. There are also a few universities which offer museum studies degrees at the master's level.

Along with the academic studies, it is also useful to take some college courses in management, computers, and administration, and volunteer in museums and galleries throughout school. Some museums and programs may arrange for internships. Museum curators are usually hired after at least five years working in museums in other capacities.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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