So you love museums and think you’d like to work in one, curating exhibitions and collecting and caring for artifacts. Being a curator is one of the most interesting and rewarding museum jobs around. But how do you become one?
Here are 5 great ways to get your curatorial career rolling.
1. Determine which museums you’d like to work in.
Think about the museums you’ve visited. In which ones can you picture yourself working? Check out job postings for these museums (and similar ones) to suss out the skills, education, and work experience you might need to eventually land a job there.
2. Tailor your schooling to match the requirements for these jobs.
Sign up for a major that will support your museum career goals. Majoring in history can be a great way to position yourself for many museum jobs. Or you might want to consider pursuing something more specialized, like a public history major.
Beyond completing your undergraduate degree, depending on the museum(s) where you want to work, you may need further formal education. A master’s degree in museum studies or public history might be necessary. Or you may need to complete a master’s or Ph.D. in Canadian history, anthropology, archeology, art, or Indigenous studies. This is because many museums, especially the larger federal and provincial ones, require their curators to have demonstrated specific subject matter expertise.
3. Get museum experience ASAP
There are a lot of ways to do this. The easiest? Volunteer at your favourite local museum. Many, especially the smaller ones, are often starved for help, and this may mean more opportunities to assist with curation. You may even find yourself allowed to curate exhibitions on your own.
Better yet, see if your school offers a co-op program like we do at Brandon University. Co-op education allows you to take on paid work in your field in exchange for course credit. No co-op program at your school? Keep an eye out for summer job opportunities. Many museums receive federal and provincial grants to hire students.
Volunteering or working in museums while still in school will give you invaluable perspective and help ensure you hit the professional job market with important skills and experience in your chosen field.
4. Hone your skills
Focus on developing strong research and writing skills. Learn to express yourself concisely. Museum exhibition text panels have tight word limits. It is critical that you learn to distill and express complex ideas in clear and accessible language.
Determine other skills it might be valuable for you to have. For example, in many smaller museums, curators may be expected to cover a variety of tasks. Having experience or training in technical museum skills like conservation, security, or even carpentry might prove valuable.
Consider learning or honing a second language. In Canada, many federal or provincial government museums require staff fluency in both French and English. If the museums you’d like to work in focus on a specific cultural community, it may make sense to become proficient in that community’s language.
5. Network, Network, Network!
Getting involved in your province’s museums association is a great way to meet and get to know museum people. Here in western Canada, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia all have active museum associations that host events to support their member institutions. Many offer student discounts on memberships, conferences, classes, and special events.
Informational interviews are good ways to network and learn more about what it takes to be a curator. Don’t be shy about approaching staff at the museums where you’d like to work to see if they have a few minutes to chat with you about your career ambitions.
You can do this!
Becoming a museum curator takes hard work and perseverance. Building a solid educational foundation, working on key skills development, and getting out to get to know the museum world before you hit the professional job market will help position you for success.
Can you think of other ideas that might help someone wanting to become a curator? Let us know in the comments below.