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Museum Administrator


With a few exceptions, museums are quiet, peaceful sanctuaries. They are full of artifacts from throughout the ages, both human and nature made, which tell us stories about our past and inform us about our place in the world both today, and in the future. People often visit museums to think, to reflect, to draw, and to write. They are reflective places where visitors can spend hours, peacefully drifting through time...

At least, that is the side of museums that the public sees. The engines that keep those peaceful sanctuaries humming are busy, and full of stress, deadlines, projects, and phone calls. It is the museum administrators who look after the business side of museums. Their job is to keep the museum running smoothly on the outside.

They may work in a team of administrators, or they may work alone, alongside curators and interpretation staff, depending on the size of the museum. They are responsible for a number of tasks, including fundraising, connecting with media, developing budgets, hiring and firing staff, developing community outreach programs and educational events, writing newsletters, and ensuring that safety policies, public relations policies, and educational goals are being met. They may arrange for visiting speakers and experts, and communicate with other museums regarding exhibits, programming, and visitors. They attend board meetings, secure funding from governments, and propose changes to staff and board members about everything from phone systems to mission statements. They are constantly working hard to keep up with the various tasks which are crucial in keeping a museum going.

Museum administrators rarely work directly with the collections. They do, however, direct the people who interpret, present, and care for the collections. Museum administrators make sure there is enough money for the collection to grow and for programs to develop.
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  Interests and Skills  
Museum administrators need to be decisive, with good communication and people skills. They must also have good writing skills. A knowledge and understanding of other cultures is important, as are some foreign language skills. Museum administrators should have a love of art and history, and an understanding of various styles, genres, and time periods. Strong leadership and organizational skills are beneficial qualities, as is good judgment and the ability to solve problems creatively.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Review budget
  • Arrange for fundraising and grants
  • Meet with staff, media, and public to discuss policy changes and new exhibits
  • Oversee events
  • Maintain high quality of public programming
  • Attend board meetings
  • Museum administrators have a number of tasks. Each day will be spent in offices, outlining policy changes, developing programming strategies, looking for fundraising opportunities, and meeting with staff to discuss museum matters. Museum administrators might tour the museum floor to assess visitor response to exhibits and programs. They will spend very little time outside, but will be in offices, working on a computer or on the phone. They may travel, when visiting other museums or attending conferences.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Museums administrators are found in the back offices of museums, both large and small. They are employed by libraries, archives, museums, historic sites and non-retail art galleries.They may travel a few times a year, within the city and around the world, visiting other museums and attending conferences.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Museum administrators can move on to work as curators, interpreters, or museum directors. They can also leave the field and apply their skills to non-profit organizations, government agencies, and private business. They can become journalists, writers, historians, and even open a gallery or auction house, depending on their past training and experience.

  Educational Paths  
Museum administrators will need at least a bachelor's degree in some combination of business administration, history, classical studies, education, and fine arts. Also beneficial to anyone looking to work as a museum administrator is a masters degree in museum studies or art conservation, as well as courses in computer science and some management training.

Volunteering in a museum environment, either as a guide, a front desk worker, or in the back offices with the administrative staff is a good way to gain experience in this field.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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