I would like to work in as a museum textile curator, what kind of schooling would I need for that?
August 22, 2009 12:06 AM   Subscribe

I would like to work in as a museum textile curator, what kind of schooling would I need for that?
posted by Listening to Education (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The normal career path for a curator is to get a graduate degree in art history (such as a Masters or PhD), combined with work experience or an internship in your field of interest. Then entry level work in arts administration, leading to a possible appointment as a curatorial assistant or research assistant. Then it's a question of waiting for all the curators above you to retire. Seriously! It's really competitive, but an internship and a few years study will set you in good for entering the profession. I do know curators with only a Bachelor's degree, but I think this is getting to be less and less common (and many of them have publications / artistic careers to make up for it).

Good luck! I would try some 'informational interviewing' with curators at your nearest arts institution if you want more detail.
posted by Weng at 5:06 AM on August 22, 2009

I would say get a PhD in art history at a university that is connected to a museum with a large textile collection. That way you can be creating connections at that museum while you do your research, you can learn about what working in a museum is all about for the curators, and you'll get exposure to more art forms than just the specific textiles you are interested in working with. I'd also pay attention to the way textiles are conserved- having some collections experience under your belt would make you more desirable later. I agree with Weng that it's a ridiculously competitive field- that's why I'm suggesting the PhD. I've not really met any curators that don't have one, to be honest.
posted by Mouse Army at 5:48 AM on August 22, 2009

Seconding everything Weng said...it's very competitive so you'll want to make some key moves early. Count on needing a graduate degree, probably a PhD. And DO get every internship you can. That is how you will get a job. I also recommend the informational interviews. Try to get two of them with textile curators if you can. It is so specialized you'll want their specific advice. Be sure to ask them their recommendations for schools and programs.
posted by i_love_squirrels at 5:50 AM on August 22, 2009

Get in contact with the education section of museums you'd interested in working for and see if they offer any post-grad training. Not sure where you are but the V&A museum in London runs a series of joint masters degrees in design history and conservation partnership with the Royal College of Art which would start you on the curatorial track.
posted by freya_lamb at 6:07 AM on August 22, 2009

Something to keep in mind is that many of the internships that could really help you get into this career would be unpaid (or as good as). So, having wealthy parents, savings or a job you could work throughout school and internships will probably be necessary. Some friends of mine who missed out on the first two make it work waiting tables or working jobs that don't require a 9-5 schedule.

I think the internship part of this equation is as critical as getting your formal degree(s). To be honest, it's why I didn't go further than a BA in art history--my advisors seemed to have come up during a time when "after college I worked at a museum" didn't automatically mean "after college I clawed and elbowed my way into a prestigious, unpaid internship and had to borrow money from my parents to afford my rent in NYC" and so I didn't get much advice/warning about how competitive and expensive working in this field would be. I don't mean to sound bitter--I'm not (it's just a challenge whose pay-off wasn't worth the price to me). And, like I said, I do have friends who are working in museums and love it.

So, I guess I'm just saying you should try to be smart and strategic about the financial side.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:35 AM on August 22, 2009

I'm in this exact field and the above posters are correct, it is insanely competitive right now and lots of museums are cutting their budgets and letting people go. Curators and staff who should be retiring right now have lost retirement funds due to the economy and are going to continue working as long as possible. So there is that. Also, museum curators, unless you are working in private industry (a corporation or individual with a collection) or for the Smithsonian, do not make much money. At all. If you want to pursue this field, you need to do it because you love it. So, if these facts do not daunt you, read on.

You will need a master's degree in museum studies with an emphasis in textiles. Better yet, you could get your MA in textile history and then A phd in a similar course of study will help you be even more competitive. As with most fields, you need connections. Get your name out there as a grad student. Write scholarly articles and get them published, volunteer and intern at museums with textile collections, present papers at conferences (textile society of America) and network like crazy. Join organizations related to the field and get on their message boards and mailing lists. Figure out what your areas of specific research will be and become extremely knowledgeable about it (ie. Japanese shibori, quilts, 18th century dress), but learn as much as you can about all other areas of textiles. Read everything you can get your hands on about textile history. The field of research is moving fast and has evolved over the past 10 years. Be prepared to learn some science, because you will need to know how to do some basic fiber analysis, identify weaves and aniline dyes vs. plant dyes, and do thread and stitch counts.

One last thing, learn how to write grants and raise funds. A lot of us museum professionals are scrambling for funds right now to pay our salaries and keep the lights on at our museums. Learn how to write successful grants.

Best of luck and feel free to send me a message with any questions.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:43 AM on August 22, 2009

My goals were slightly different, but I did this M.A. program at FIT, and it sounds like it would be worth considering for you. It was a good balance of practical, collections-management-type information and historical research and writing. The faculty are mostly great and you should be able to get contact information for some of them from the FIT site and ask them about the program and the field in general.

I agree with pretty much everything said above. It's all what you make of it and the most valuable things that I got out of grad school were the internships and connections. Feel free to MeMail me if you want more info. Good luck!
posted by doift at 9:05 AM on August 22, 2009

A friend of mine who's a textile conservator, not a curator, has had to move four times in the last few years, once to another continent, because that's where the internships were. It's paid off -- she's on her way back (I mean that literally, she's on a plane as I type this) to a wonderful job in the United States with a lot of experience under her belt -- but she couldn't have done it if her financial and family situation hadn't allowed her to pick up and go on short notice.
posted by tangerine at 2:44 PM on August 23, 2009

« Older Mercedes Benz Gearing   |   Husky + natural gas = ? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.