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What is a museum curator?

Curators direct the accession, deaccession, storage, and exhibition of collections. Is that all? Let's find out.

In large museums, museum curators, referred to as museum keepers in some countries, work under the supervision of the museum director. Curators direct the accession, deaccession, storage, and exhibition of collections.

A museum curator dressing a mannequin.

Curators direct the accession, deaccession, storage, and exhibition of collections.

What is accession?

Accession refers to receiving new items and adding them to the collection; deaccession is the removal of items from a collection because of repetition of artifacts, the receipt of better examples, loss, or decay. Sometimes, when building collections, museums sell valuable pieces (often, duplicates in the collection) to raise money to buy items that they want more than the deaccessioned pieces.

Curators negotiate and authorize the purchase, sale, exchange, or loan of collection items. They may be responsible for authenticating, evaluating, and categorizing the items in a collection. Curators also oversee and help conduct the museum’s research projects and related educational programs.

In a large museum where there are teams of curators, each may be involved in one area of specialization, such as 18th-century fashions or Gothic furnishings. A large historical costume museum, for example, may employ different curators for its collections of textiles, accessories, menswear garments, and women’s apparel. Some curators maintain their collections, some conduct research, and others perform administrative tasks. In small institutions with only one or a few curators, a curator may be responsible for many varied tasks, from maintaining collections to directing the affairs of the museum.

What is the main role of the curator?

The main role of the curator is to acquire objects and research, identify, and catalog them, usually on a computer. Curators in large and small museums are also responsible for ensuring correct storage conditions. Other duties that they may be assigned include overseeing security and insurance and developing policies and procedures for the collections in collaboration with the museum director if there is one.

Another important aspect of a curator’s job is to provide information to the public. Let’s find out more in the next step.

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