Curator Career Information
What a Curator does
There is a lot of confusion between an archaeologist and a curator. To put it simply an archaeologist will go looking for an artifact and a curator will interpret it and preserve it. Say a wooden toy found buried deep in the ground. As a curator you will decide if it belongs to the Mohanjodaro era or the Chandragupta period or if someone just left it there last spring.
You will study the intricate patterns on the toy and theories as to the kind of tools used by people in those days. Your findings will paint the overall picture of life during those times. Curators collect, maintain, and protect objects of historical and aesthetic importance primarily in museums, libraries, and private collections.
Curators are responsible for the safety and proper presentation of the works. It is the curator's job to document each piece of art that comes in to the museum. This means pictures have to be taken, piece evaluated and described and any damages that the piece might have, have to be recorded.
For this, it is necessary to diagnose the causes of damage or deterioration and decide on appropriate treatment. That's not all. As a Curator, all the restoration work has to be painstakingly recorded both in writing and through photographs and the treatment administered should be reversible if the need arises.
The work of a Curator also includes archiving these artifacts and maintaining accurate records. As a Curator you will ensure their safety and preserve them for future generations to see. If that's not all, you will shop around and acquire relevant artifacts and also verify their authenticity.
Research is invariably a part of this profession. In these cash strapped times, as a Curator you will also have to don the marketing mantle and arrange for funds from the government and private parties.
A museum sees people both children and adults, from different backgrounds, each one seeking information of a different kind. As a curator you have to constantly evaluate the different antiquities that come into the museum both in terms of their historical value as well as how they should be presented to the common man.
Appropriate display of the object is also the work of the curator. For a good display the object should be studied thoroughly in terms of its historical significance and interpreted correctly. This calls for a lot of research and teamwork.
Curators' duties also include making sure that climate and pest control issues are seen to, and at times, overseeing research on collection pieces to make certain the integrity of the piece is maintained (such as dating tests for fossils or x-ray analysis of paintings to determine origin).
There is scope for all kinds of people in a museum. If you are academic and research oriented as a curator you can work with objects. The more outgoing types with good communication skills can interact with the public dishing out information about the objects.
The entry point into a museum is usually as a senior curatorial assistant. Job involves overseeing the day-to-day functioning of the museum, looking after the artifacts, etc. As you grow in experience, you will be involved in the various projects that the museum is involved in. The next level is that of assistant curator and then a curator. You may be required to go into the field to the excavation sites to assist archaeologists.
At a senior level, as a curator you will be involved in research and developing expertise in a particular area say weapons or across a broad era. Eventually you are required to be a leading authority on the subject of your specialisation. When that happens your opinion will be sought after the world over. As a curator you can always take up a teaching job and even write a book. Freelancing for private collectors is another lucrative option.
There is a resource crunch as far as museums in India are concerned. Also most museums are in a state of neglect. So be prepared for hard times ahead. Of course if you land yourself a job handling the Indian heritage section at the London museum then its all rosy from then on.
Abilities & Traits Required
The varied and wide-ranging duties of a curator require someone with a mind attuned to details. Another facet of the curator's job is educating the public about the objects and publicizing their existence. A curator writes most literature one receives at a museum. So excellent written communication skills will come handy.
A curator also needs to have good research skills. As a curator you will be spending a lot of time working on one particular aspect of a project. So you got to have loads of patience. In this field you can't afford to be accident-prone as some of the stuff that you will handle may be worth million of rupees!
If you have good negotiating skills as a curator you will be an asset to your museum when exchange of artifacts with other museums comes into the picture.
As a curator apart from an extensive knowledge of history and art, it is useful to have a basic understanding of chemistry, restoration techniques, museum studies, and even physics and public relations. Curators must have basic skills in aesthetic design, organizational behaviour, business, fundraising, and publicity.
So let's get to the academics part. At the least you need to have a master's degree in Museology or Museum Science. These are offered at select institutes such as National Museology Institute of Delhi, MS University, Baroda, etc. The other alternative is to do masters in a relevant subject say History or Anthropology. Ideally you should have a double master's.
Most of the museums in India are government-owned. Your salary structure will be along the lines of a college professor, which going by the current scale is not bad. Starting salaries are in the range of Rs 18000 - 25000 and can work its way up to Rs 35000-45000 a month. More than money it is the recognition of peers that most curators crave for.