Heidi Schave is the Education Director at the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda California. In the following article Heidi Schave discusses considerations and the career path for people looking to work for major museums.
Some of the most fascinating experiences of a young person’s life begin with a trip to a museum. Seeing the ancient artifacts, learning about life thousands of years ago, and discovering how items have been carefully preserved over centuries can inspire people to make a career for themselves in the museum world.
But Heidi Schave explains that becoming a museum curator isn’t simply about looking after objects for visitors to enjoy. It requires an extensive, but highly rewarding, combination of education and experience.
Defining Museum Curator
Heidi Schave notes that interestingly, the word ‘curator’ comes from the Latin word curatus, which meant ‘to care for.’
It is the perfect description given to the person who looks after, or cares for, a museum’s artifacts. The museum may be one of natural history, featuring millions of specimens of life in its many forms. Or it may be an art museum, with priceless paintings and sculptures.
The curator’s job is one that involves great attention to detail, a passion for discovery, and the patience to carefully handle and even restore items that, without museums, may have otherwise been lost forever.
Films, books, and TV shows may like to present the museum curator in a caricatured, clichéd role, as a person who sits in a dusty office, surrounded by books and ancient relics.
But Heidi Schave explains that to pursue the role of a museum curator, one must be dynamic, engaging, and have a keen eye and appreciation for beautiful artifacts, as well has knowing the story behind the pieces curated.
Love of History is a Must
Heidi Schave explains that while it certainly helps to love history, being a museum curator is about so much more than the past.
Museum curators perform a host of duties, including:
- Designing and creating installations
- Mediating between sellers to negotiate the acquisition of artifacts
- Restoring priceless pieces
- Teaching visitors about certain exhibits
- Managing staff and coordinating teams
Working as a museum curator is often just as much about being a creative, artistic visionary as it is about being occupied with the wonders of the past according to Heidi Schave.
The Career Path
Setting the scene for a future as a museum curator is something that can be started as early as high school according to Heidi Schave. Choosing a pathway toward this career goal can be boosted by concentrating on such subjects as art, history, languages, and even business and management.
After high school, enrolling in college and completing an undergraduate degree in art history, archaeology, or international affairs will broaden horizons and open a wealth of subjects in which to specialize.
Most museums will later want even more specialization, so a master’s degree in a certain aspect of the intended museum career will also be a requirement for most museums.
However, for a national museum, as Heidi Schave explains, there’s a requirement for all museum curators to hold a PhD, as well as at least five years of field experience under their belts, before they can be considered for a post.
Experience as a Museum Curator
For recent graduates, Heidi Schave explains that the eternal issue stems from employers wanting to hire someone with experience, whereas job applicants who have excellent qualifications may lack the practical experience.
But while it may appear that such a job must surely be a dying art, it may be surprising to learn that museum curators are enjoying employment growth at a rate of 9%, set to last until at least 2028. It means that for those looking to enter the field, the jobs are there.
Interested candidates do not need to wait until qualifying to get experience. Instead, Heidi Schave says while pursuing a master’s degree or working on a PhD, it’s advisable to get work experience in positions such as business administration, exhibition management, and even in philanthropy.
Remembering, too, that museums are often in need of volunteers, so any free time that could be spent working on boosting the experience section of a resume should be grasped at the earliest opportunity.
A Richly Rewarding Career
Heidi Schave notes that it’s certain that a job as a museum curator will open a world of experiences and knowledge that can last a lifetime, not just until retirement.
Museum curators, and their compatriots in archiving, restoration, and conservation are enjoying job security in a growing industry that isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
For as long as prospective candidates have a love of research and a keen eye for attractive exhibitions that will inspire others to visit museums and other local areas of historical interest, the role of museum curator will ensure that no two working days will ever be the same.