Unlike many art professions, to become a curator, education is nearly mandatory. In fact, for many positions out there you will not only need a Bachelor’s degree but also a Masters.
The difference, however, from professions such as law, engineering, or medicine, is that you don’t need to study in a program specifically directed at becoming a curator. It is more important to have a focus on the industry you’d like to curate for. As we mentioned before, there are many things you can curate. The first that comes to mind is a museum or a gallery, but zoos and science exhibits are also the type of establishments that need a curator.
So while you may know early on that you’d like to be a curator and go directly into curatorial programs offered across the world, there is nothing wrong with taking art history or biology courses and then taking a step into exploring a new and different career.
Karen Sachs, the web curator for Shutterstock’s high-end imagery line “Offset” told us in her interview:
My education is in photography, the arts and communication. All of my classes helped me to train and inform my eye, which enables me to better select imagery and tell visual stories…Study everything you can from the visual arts to art history to business, writing and communication. The more you learn about the world, the more you will make well-informed decisions when curating. It’s not just about the visual imagery in front of you, it’s about what influenced and inspired those visuals.
If you follow the path of our experts not a single one studied to become a curator specifically; however, they did focus their studies on fine arts. They also worked hard to develop an eye for the way pieces of art flow together and how to express a vision through demonstrating art-work. Something else they all have in common is passion for art and creative expression. Like most art careers, being a curator is probably not a 9-5 job, it’s a lifestyle.
The profession has become more and more popular over the last few decades, and while in the past, few schools offered degrees for curators, today the program is spreading throughout different universities and colleges.
You do have the option of complementing your arts education with training or an apprenticeship as well. Many curators say it is not possible to teach someone how to have a vision; it is more of a talent, which is then complemented and trained through knowledge and practice.
WHAT IF I WANT A CURATOR’S DEGREE?
If you are set on becoming a curator, there are a few great options to choose from, both in the US, but also on the international level. Here are a few of the best recognized schools that offer curatorial degrees and courses. Many programs are designed to complement previously obtained Bachelor’s level degrees or focus on Master’s level studies.
- Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College Located about an hour outside of New York, CCS Bard offers a Master’s level program with a theoretical component in the first year followed by a more practical second year of study. Tuition is currently $37,284 per year.
- Columbia University – MA in Modern Art: Critical & Curatorial Studies (MODA) A Master’s level degree with a more theoretical approach which involves extensive study of history and artistic concepts as well as a final thesis component. Located in NYC, students also have an option of an inter-disciplinary degree with the Sorbonne University in France. Tuition is $23,467 per semester.
- Whitney Museum of American Art – Independent Study Program This NYC based institution, was the first to introduce a curatorial program, which continues today. Every year, 4 students are selected to participate in a practical program, where they work as a team to create an exhibition. Candidates can be current students or curators. The tuition fee is $1,800 per year.
- Royal College of Arts – Curating Contemporary Art Program Located in London, England, RCA’s curatorial program is one of the first ones in the world. It’s a 2-year Master’s level degree. The first year combines theoretical and practical aspects, while the second year is dedicated to putting together an exhibition. Tuition fees are quite high at 27,900 pounds per year for international students.
- Ecole du Magasin – International Curatorial Training Program This 9 month program in Grenoble, France requires a Master’s degree or equivalent experience and is a prestigious training program for curators who are already practicing in the field. It involves a 3 month theoretical component and a 6 month implementation period. The program is free and is conducted in English, although knowledge of French is required.
- De Appel Curatorial Programme This may be one of the most prestigious curatorial programs in the world, taking only 6 students per year, who face a very high level of competition during the selection process. It is entirely practice based and takes place in Amsterdam. The total cost of the program is 7,000 euros.
GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR
So how is it that you actually get a job? Well, it’s not so different from other industries, especially art-related ones, out there. You need experience. Whether it is an internship, an apprenticeship, or an independent project, that’s besides the point. You need to show your skills at creating a vision and putting pieces of art (or other pieces) together in such a way that you create an experience. A good way to start is by getting a curatorial assistant position or working for the type of institution you’d like to curate for in an entry-level position.
At the same time, you need to know people. Many of them. Grow your network. Go to industry related parties, dinners, and shows. Use your LinkedIn account and Facebook page. Create a Twitter account that others want to follow and tweet on related subjects. This will all make it easier to make it in the long-run and to keep your job or your business running.