- Acquire, store, and exhibit collections
- Select the theme and design of exhibits
- Develop or set up exhibit materials
- Design, organize, or conduct tours and workshops for the public
- Attend meetings and civic events to promote the institution
- Clean objects using cleansers, solvents, and soap solutions
- Direct and supervise curatorial, technical, and student staff
- Plan and conduct special research projects
Many objects and documents are important or historically significant. Curators, museum technicians, and conservators preserve and organize the display of these materials.
Curators manage museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, nature centers, and historic sites. The museum director often is a curator. Curators direct the acquisition, storage, and exhibit of collections, including negotiating and authorizing the purchase, sale, exchange, or loan of collections. They also may authenticate, evaluate, and categorize the specimens in a collection. Curators often oversee and help conduct the institution’s research projects and related educational programs.
Today, an increasing part of a curator’s duties involves fundraising and promotion, which may include writing and reviewing grant proposals, journal articles, and publicity materials. In addition, many curators attend meetings, conventions, and civic events. Most curators specialize in a particular field, such as botany, art, or history. Those who work in large institutions may be highly specialized. A large natural history museum, for example, might employ separate curators for its collections of birds, fishes, insects, and mammals.
Some curators take care of their collections, some do research related to items in the collection, and others do administrative tasks. In small institutions with only one or a few curators, one curator may be responsible for a number of tasks, from taking care of collections to directing the affairs of the museum.
Most museums require curators to have a master’s degree in an appropriate discipline of the museum’s specialty—art, history, or archaeology—or in museum studies. Some employers prefer that curators have a doctoral degree, particularly for positions in natural history or science museums. Earning two graduate degrees—in museum studies (museology) and a specialized subject—may give candidates an advantage in a competitive job market.
In small museums, curator positions may be available to people with a bachelor’s degree. Because curators, particularly those in small museums, may have administrative and managerial responsibilities, courses in business administration, public relations, marketing, and fundraising are recommended. For some positions, applicants need to have completed an internship of full-time museum work, as well as courses in museum practices.
In large museums, curators may advance through several levels of responsibility, eventually becoming museum directors. Curators often start in smaller local and regional establishments at the beginning of their careers. As they gain experience, they may get the opportunity to work in larger facilities. The top museum positions are highly sought after and competitive. Individual research and publications are important for advancement in larger institutions.