Exhibition researcher

 26 March 2013

Exhibition researchers come up with content and storylines for exhibitions.

Exhibition researchers select objects to feature in the exhibition. Image: RBG Kew.
Exhibition researchers select objects to feature in the exhibition. Image: RBG Kew.

Exhibition researchers come up with ideas and research content for exhibitions and displays at museums, art galleries and heritage sites.

What do exhibition researchers do?

At the start of a project, exhibition researchers come up with ideas or a storyline. They attend meetings to discuss and develop these with colleagues and external exhibition designers. They need to be persuasive to present their ideas to others.

They select objects to feature in the exhibition. These could include photographs or film and sound clips from the museum or gallery collections or archives. Sometimes they may arrange for these to be loaned from other organisations.

Researching and writing content for text panels, captions and multi-media interactives is a large part of the job.

Exhibition researchers may also have a role to market the exhibition. They may write website content, give media interviews and attend events to promote the gallery.

What is the job like?

Larger national art galleries and museums may have a research department or researchers may be part of an exhibitions team.

Good imagination and creativity are key skills for exhibition researchers.

Exhibition researcher roles are often filled by:

  • historians
  • guest researchers
  • academic researchers
  • project curators
  • existing curators seconded from their normal role.

In smaller regional or local museums and galleries, researching and creating exhibitions may be part of the job of an exhibitions officer. Their job is often to manage exhibitions from ideas through to installation.

Exhibition officers need administration skills and business awareness to manage budgets. In smaller museums, they need practical skills to install exhibitions.

They may also arrange events and workshops for visitors based on the theme of the exhibition. Work with local community groups on partnership projects may also be part of their job.

Exhibition officers may also need knowledge of conservation techniques, to display fragile objects safely.

Exhibitions researchers and officers work to schedules and need to be very organised. The work can be pressurised approaching deadlines or the launch of an exhibition.  At times you may have to work long hours including evenings and weekends.

How do I become an exhibition researcher?

The skills you need include:

  • good written and spoken communication skills
  • ability to present your ideas persuasively to others
  • interest in researching information, both print and web based
  • good imagination and creativity
  • project management and organisation skills
  • an ability to interpret information and present it in a way people can understand.

For exhibition officer posts business and administration skills may be needed. It also helps to be a practical and hands-on person.

You may be able to work as an exhibitions assistant before moving into an exhibition officer role

In order to find your first role in a museum, gallery or heritage site it is important to have done work experience or worked as a volunteer in this sector. The Museums Association website has useful information on starting your career and finding work experience or a paid internship.

You may need to take short-term contracts for several years before you gain a permanent post.

What training and qualifications do I need?

For an exhibition researcher post you would normally need a degree related to the collections of the museum, gallery or heritage site where you want to work.

Useful degrees could include: 

  • history
  • fine art
  • history of art
  • science. 

Researchers may also have postgraduate qualifications in their subject of interest or a research degree.

Exhibition officers may also need degree level study relating to the site they wish to work for. Degrees in museum, gallery, heritage or gallery studies may also be useful.

For both these roles postgraduate study in museum studies may also be advantageous.

Apprenticeships in cultural and heritage venue operations provide a non-degree route into some exhibition roles. Apprenticeships at advanced level are sometimes available in assistant exhibition organiser roles. 

What can I earn? 

Salaries will vary greatly depending on the size of the organisation and the nature of the position. Some exhibition researchers may have experience as a curator or academic researcher and may be paid a salary relevant to this.

Starting salaries may be around £16,000 to £24,000 for an exhibitions assistant rising to £25,000 to £28,000 for an exhibitions officer.

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