Curators are employed by public and private museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, nature conservatories and other historic sites. They oversee historic collections and conduct public service activities for the institutions they work for. This can include acquiring artwork and historic items, selecting the theme and design of exhibits, organizing public exhibits, tours and workshops, supervising the curatorial staff and planning special research projects. The job market for curators is extremely competitive, and academic standards are very high.
While it may be possible to get a job as a curator without having a master’s degree, it is highly unlikely, especially in today’s competitive job market. Many employers require their curators to have a Ph.D. This is especially the case with national museums, natural history and science museums as well as institutions in major metropolitan areas. It is reasonable to expect that without at least a master’s degree, a curator must have many years of experience and would have already established a professional reputation in his field of expertise, even for jobs at smaller institutions. In fact, to be competitive, it is advisable for curators to have dual graduate degrees, generally one in their field of expertise and another in museology: museum studies. Even many curator assistants and collection managers are required to have master’s degrees.
Median National Salary:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a curator in 2010 was $48,450. Those in the lowest 10 percentile made less than $27,640 while those in the top 10 percentile earned more than $86,450. The major factors influencing levels of pay are the size of the institution and the education and experience of the curator. Salaries start on the low end of these ranges. As having a master’s degree is considered a minimum requirement, this would not be a factor in qualifying a curator for higher levels of compensation. Other qualifications may also be required by larger or more prestigious institutions. For instance, curators of national museums are required to have a minimum of five years of field experience in addition to a Ph.D.
Salaries by City:
According to the Institute of Economic Research, the major metropolitan cities with the highest-paid curators are San Francisco, California, where curators earn an average of $85,743; followed by New York City, New York, at $85,509; Los Angeles, California, at $81,012 and Boston, Massachusetts, at $80,975. Other high-earning major metropolitan cities include Chicago, Illinois, at $75,919; Minneapolis, Minnesota, at $73,737; Baltimore, Maryland, at $73,030; Dallas, Texas, at $71,241 and Miami, Florida, at $70,526. Some of the lowest salaries come from locations such as San Antonio, Texas, at $66,417; Louisville, Kentucky, at $66,109; Phoenix, Arizona, at $65,709; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, at $60,607.
Curators are finding that the focus of much of their work is shifting. More and more, a curator’s time is consumed with administrative functions such as fund-raising and grant proposal writing, and the pressure to bring in large grants is enormous. In addition to the traditionally required areas of expertise in history, art, classification and restoration techniques, aesthetic design and research, a curator must now have demonstrated proficiencies in public relations, publicity, business administration and fund-raising. Being multilingual is also a definite advantage, and research and publication in academic journals are required for career advancement. The demand for curators is expected to increase by 25 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is much faster than average for other occupations.