What is a curator?

 17 May 2011

To succeed in curating you have to be highly committed to working with art and artists, be driven and motivated, but also flexible to new ideas and opportunities.

Ruth Macdonald, artist
Ruth Macdonald, artist

A career in contemporary art curating

Curators have many different career paths, so there isn’t one clear model to follow. 

The role of a curator has its roots in museum practice, concerned with the selection of objects for exhibition presentation and acquisition to collections. 

Many curators see their role more as a producer than curator.

Curators often work in specialist areas, linked to specific academic areas of art historical or contemporary interest combined with project management.

Curators working within medium or large-scale institutions are more likely to be specialists contributing to a wider programme; complimenting and sometimes overlapping with colleagues working in conservation, education and outreach, marketing, press, fundraising, administration, operations management, audience development, exhibition design and technical support.

In smaller organisations curators usually fulfil multiple roles across one or more of these areas.

Different roles for an art curator

Job titles of those working curatorially are wide-ranging and amongst many others include:

  • Collections Manager
  • Keeper of Art
  • Visual Arts Officer
  • Exhibition Officer
  • Curatorial Assistant
  • Director
  • Museum Manager
  • Arts Development Officer
  • Programme Development Manager
  • Education Manager

In recent years arts practice has shifted towards new modes of collaborative production while digital platforms continually offer new ways to distribute and engage with the arts. 

As visual arts organisations and practitioners develop connectivity with artists and audiences, more varied roles have emerged for curators beyond exhibition making and collections management; curatorship has also evolved to embrace audience-generated content.  Many curators see their role more as a producer than curator.

You can read the full article, which details the role of independent curators, and the training available, at the Visual Artists and Galleries Association website.

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