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Curators manage collections at museums, libraries, and historically significant sites. Professionals typically are responsible for overseeing the acquisition of new items, conducting research on them, and displaying them for public or private viewings. Many curators take on additional administrative roles such as organizing and promoting special events. In order to fulfill the variety of important job duties, a curator usually must have extensive experience and education in her field of specialty.
Many curators work at museums dedicated to specific subjects, such as art, natural history, engineering, and aerospace. In most settings, curators research, acquire, authenticate, and display interesting and significant pieces. An art curator, for example, may be interested in starting a collection of Modernist paintings. She would research the movement, identify her favorite pieces, and find out where she can acquire them permanently or borrow them as part of a cooperative between other museums. The curator decides where and how to display pieces, and what educational information to provide to visitors in the form of descriptive signs, programs, and tour scripts.
Natural history museum curators specialize in the research and preservation of fossils, artifacts, rocks, and biological specimens. Many curators are experts in paleontology and biological anthropology, and are able to use their extensive knowledge to confirm that certain pieces are authentic. Curators often work with field researchers to study new discoveries and display important findings for the public to see. They make models and plaster casts from actual fossils to build realistic skeletons and replicas.
Large museums typically have several curators on staff to manage different departments. For example, a natural history museum may employ a paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, anthropologist, and geologist. It is common for a smaller institution, such as a local historical home or library, to be owned and operated by a single individual. Curators are often involved in fundraising and public awareness activities to help promote and protect collections. They frequently write grant proposals, organize educational materials, and submit research articles to scientific, literary, or art journals.
A master's or doctoral degree typically is necessary to become a curator in most settings. In addition, professionals often gain years of experience in other positions, such as field researchers, archivists, conservators, and teachers before becoming curators. When beginning a new curator job, an individual usually acts as an assistant to an experienced professional. She may be required to spend several months studying the contents of the museum to learn as much as possible about different collections before assuming head curator responsibilities.