AskDefine | Define curator

Dictionary Definition

curator n : the custodian of a collection (as a museum or library) [syn: conservator]

User Contributed Dictionary



Curator is originally Latin and means guardian or overseer.


  1. A person who manages, administers or organizes a collection - at a museum, library, archive or zoo.

Derived terms


administrator of a collection

Extensive Definition

Curator (from Latin cura, care), means manager, overseer.
A curator of a cultural heritage institution (e.g., archive, gallery, library, museum or garden) is a content specialist responsible for an institution's collections and, together with a publications specialist, their associated collections catalogs. The object of a curator's concern necessarily involves tangible objects of some sort, whether it be inter alia artwork, collectibles, historic items or scientific collections.

Curator responsibilities

In smaller organizations, a curator may have sole responsibility for the acquisition and care of objects. The curator will make decisions regarding what objects to collect, oversee their care and documentation, conduct research based on the collection, and share that research with the public and scholarly community through exhibitions and publications. In very small volunteer-based museums, such as local historical societies, a curator may be the only paid staff member.
In larger institutions, the curator's primary function is as a subject specialist, with the expectation that he or she will conduct original research on objects and guide the organization in its collecting. Such institutions can have multiple curators, each assigned to a specific collecting area (e.g. Curator of Ancient Art, Curator of Prints and Drawings, etc.) and often operating under the direction of a head curator. In such organizations, the physical care of the collection may be overseen by museum collections managers or museum conservators, and documentation and administrative matters (such as insurance and loans) are handled by a museum registrar.

Other definitions

In the United Kingdom, the term curator is also applied to government employees who monitor the quality of contract archaeological work under PPG 16 and are considered to manage the cultural resource of a region. In the museum setting, a curator in the United Kingdom may also be called a "keeper".
In contemporary art, the title curator is given to a person who organizes an exhibition. In this context, to curate means to pick objects and arrange them to achieve a desired effect. Usually, this means finding a theme to link a set of works, or finding works to fit a desired theme. In addition to selecting works, the curator often is responsible for writing labels, catalog essays, and other supporting content for the exhibition. Such curators may be permanent staff members, be "guest curators" from an affiliated organization or university, or be "freelance curators" working on a consultant basis.
In some American organizations, the term curator is also used to designate the head of any given division of a cultural organization. This has led to the proliferation of titles such as "Curator of Education" and "Curator of Exhibitions".
In Australia and New Zealand, the person who prepares a sports ground for use (especially a cricket ground) is known as a curator. This job is equivalent to that of groundsman in some other cricketing nations.

Education and training

Traditionally, curators have held an advanced academic degree in their subject. For larger organizations, this is typically a Doctor of Philosophy. In smaller institutions, a Master's degree is sometimes acceptable. Along with an advanced degree, curators are expected to have contributed to their academic field by publishing articles and presenting at conferences. In addition, curators need to have knowledge of the current collecting market for their area of expertise, and be aware of current ethical practices and laws that may impact their organization's collecting.
Recently, the increased complexity of many museums and cultural organizations and the corresponding emergence of professional programs in field such as Museum Studies, Arts Administration, and Public History, have encouraged the development of curators with training in non-academic areas such as non-profit administration, fundraising, and public education.
Today, as art institutions face an array of new challenges, the role of the curator is being re-thought. One consequence of this has been the emergence of academic courses in contemporary art and curatorial practice (e.g., at the Goldsmiths College, UK, Royal College of Art, UK, California College of the Arts, USA, Bard College, USA, Université de Rennes II, France, etc.).

See also

Additional resources

  • Burcaw, G. (1997) Introduction to Museum Work, 3rd edition. Lanham, MD: Altamira Press. ISBN 978-0-761-98926-4
  • Glaser, J. and A. Zenetou. (1996) Museums: A Place to Work. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-12724-0
  • Lord, G. and B. Lord. (1997) The Manual of Museum Management. Lanham, MD: Altamira Press. ISBN 0-7591-0249-X
  • Rugg, J. and Segdwick, M (2007) Issues in Curating. Intellect. ISBN 978-1-84150-162-8
curator in Catalan: Comissari
curator in German: Kurator (Museum)
curator in Spanish: Curador (arte)
curator in French: Conservateur de musée
curator in Indonesian: Kurator
curator in Hebrew: אוצר
curator in Malay (macrolanguage): Kurator
curator in Dutch: Conservator
curator in Japanese: 学芸員
curator in Norwegian: Kurator
curator in Polish: Kustosz
curator in Romanian: Curator
curator in Swedish: Kurator (museum)
curator in Thai: ภัณฑารักษ์
curator in Turkish: Küratör

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

MC, accountant, air warden, attendant, attorney, auditor, bailiff, bibliognost, bibliographer, biblioklept, bibliolater, bibliomane, bibliomaniac, bibliopegist, bibliophage, bibliophile, bibliopole, bibliopolist, bibliotaph, bibliothec, bibliothecaire, bibliothecary, book agent, book collector, book printer, book publisher, book salesman, book-stealer, bookbinder, bookdealer, bookkeeper, booklover, bookmaker, bookman, bookseller, bookworm, bursar, butler, caretaker, cashier, cashkeeper, castellan, cataloger, chamberlain, chief librarian, college editor, comptroller, conservator, controller, copy editor, croupier, custodian, depositary, depository, dictionary editor, editor, editor-in-chief, emcee, executive editor, factor, financial officer, forest ranger, game warden, gamekeeper, governor, guardian, guardian angel, housekeeper, janitor, juvenile editor, keeper, landreeve, librarian, library director, lifeguard, lifesaver, liquidator, majordomo, managing editor, master of ceremonies, next friend, paymaster, permissions editor, philobiblist, printer, prochein ami, proctor, procurator, production editor, publisher, purse bearer, purser, ranger, receiver, reference editor, reference librarian, seneschal, shepherd, steward, textbook editor, trade editor, treasurer, trustee, warden, warder
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