Artifacts in a museum that may be hundreds or thousands of years old, or that may be important to national identity, require the special care provided by museum conservators. These professionals research information about artifacts in libraries and databases and work in laboratories to restore or preserve the original quality of museum items.
Museum conservators averaged $42,450 per year, or $20.41 hourly, as of May 2011, states the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $68,710, or $33.04, while the lowest-paid 10 percent received under $24,780, or $11.91. They manage, treat and document museum objects such as paintings, books, pottery, furniture and clothing. They examine objects through the use of such equipment as x-rays, microscopes, special lights and chemicals. They can then determine the best ways to preserve them. Any methods they implement must be reversible because future technology may implement better conservation methods.
With over 40 percent of the positions in 2011, museums, historical sites and similar institutions provided the most employment for conservators. Average wages ran $39,330, or $18.91 an hour. However, professionals looking for the best pay of $58,690, or $28.22 per hour, worked at grant-making and giving services. These organizations use conservator expertise to acquire grants and other awards needed to fund museum projects . Employers generally require conservators to have a master’s degree in conservation, though a bachelor’s degree can provide entry level jobs as technicians. Qualifying for the higher credential is competitive and requires a background in archaeology, art history, chemistry, and related work experience.
In 2011, the most populous state of California showed the most jobs for museum conservators, with 1,110 positions with average pay of $46,250, or $22.24 per hour. However, higher salaries are paid in the District of Columbia. Mean salaries reached $56,630, or $27.23 per hour. This location contained the many museums of the nation’s capital, which also made Washington, D.C. the metro area with the most jobs for conservators. The 1,230 who worked here earned a mean $55,500, or $26.68 per hour, the second highest wages for any city. The top paying urban area was Albany, New York, at $57,740, or $27.76 per hour.
Conservators will see their employment opportunities grow by 7 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the BLS, which is half the increase predicted for all occupations in all employers. Fueling the demand is the rising public interest in art, history, science and technology. Museum attendance is expected to rise to manifest that interest. Competition will be fierce for the limited openings in graduate conservator programs. Fluency in a foreign language and the ability to relocate can provide increased job opportunities.