Museum jobs you may not have considered…

I was asked by a friend to email advice to a daughter who was interested in "museum work" about what skills she needed. I realized just how impossible that question was without a better definition of museum work. So I quickly dashed down the following response for her and thought I'd share it here in case it may spark inspiration or discussion. As I mentioned, it's a quick off the cuff email, so be gentle with criticism of spelling and grammar.

Museum work is such a broad field. While most museums are small and understaffed, populated by generalists, a larger institution is going to have this kind of positions: (In no particular order)

  1. Conservators – (preserve and protect collection – requires meticulous attention to mind numbing detail and good hand eye coordination. Also a conservation science degree.)
  2. Curators – Specialties range across human and natural history. Modern cultural and social history, archaeology, botany, invertebrates, vertebrates, entomology. All generally require a Phd.
  3. Management and Administration – Varies. Generally hired in from the private sector with business experience or promoted up through the ranks.
  4. Executive Leadership – Usually a strong background in board politics and corporate leadership, usually with an advanced degree in business or cultural studies of some sort.
  5. Learning and Public Programming – Responsible for school programs, public events, making sure exhibition plans relate to the curriculum, etc. These museum pros usually have at least a BA in Education.
  6. Registration and Collections management – Organizes, tracks, files and cares for collections of all types. Skills vary, but advanced degrees not generally needed unless for a specialty field like natural history or archaeology. MA in in Museum studies would be a good start.
  7. Exhibitions Design – Graphic design, 3-D design – Requires an art degree and a great portfolio. These gigs are desirable and hard to come by.
  8. Fabrication specialist – Many museums contract out their build work, but if you are a superbly talented and versatile artist/maker, there’s still room for talent. Art degrees, model making or fabrication experience or a trade journeyperson certificate in joinery help in getting this job.
  9. Audio Visual Technician – Most museums have a ton of electronics and lighting equipment as well as computer interactives that need people to install and maintain them. Requires a keen tech savvy mind and a good understanding of electronics and/or lighting design.
  10. Marketing – Museums need people to advertise their exhibitions, communicate to media, run the social media feeds, book advertisements and attract both sponsors. Qualifications usually involve experience in private sector advertising and communication firms.
  11. Development – Hunting down philanthropic donations and corporate sponsorships may not be everyone’s museum dream, but it is vitally important and desperately needed. Usually attracts people with fund raising experience with other non-profits.
  12. Publishing and editing – Larger museums produce a great deal of written content, books, advertising, exhibition text, etc. A good editor with publication experience is often needed in these cases.
  13. Finance – Museums are big business and require top notch financial people to make sure the wheels stay on. From accountants to MBAs people with money sense are needed, although they seldom get to do the “fun stuff”.
  14. Facilities – Museums have complicated and specialized building systems. From maintaining stable temperature and humidity to dealing with leaky roofs and faulty plumbing. Facilities folks provide vital behind the scenes support. Many have strong project management and building engineering backgrounds.
  15. Security – The guards that watch over everything. Special training required, but no particular post secondary degrees.
  16. Front line/visitor services/gift shop clerks – The classic entry level position. A great foot in the door and opportunity to advance through a back channel if you have drive and ambition.

Whew! That’s it for my brain dump. Badly written and not a ton of detail, but I hope it demonstrates that “museum work” is a broad category. There’s a lot of possible in roads, but it’s a competitive and small industry, so tenacity, networking and diligence are all key.

Hope this helps in some small way.


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