Inside the Collection

What does a curator really do in a day?

A Korean woman with short brown hair and wearing a black collared shirt stands beside an illuminated window with art deco style metal work.
Portrait of Min-Jung Kim, Curator of Asian Arts & Design, Powerhouse Museum, Photo by Sotha Bourn

People often ask me what curators do. Usually my answer is “we research, collect, document and display objects.” However, this answer doesn’t seem to satisfy people who wonder what really goes on behind the scenes in the museums and galleries.

I picked a typical day during the development of an exhibition Spirit of jang-in: treasure of Korean metal craft and recorded every thing I did that day. This is my diary on 9th of September 2011. It shows what curators do and gives an insight into exhibition development.

9:00 am Visit the construction site of the exhibition on Level 4

A builder affixes some cupboards to a wall inside a gallery construction site. There are newly constructed walls in the foreground.
Construction site of the gallery. Photo by Min-Jung Kim

9:30 Meet with Sarah (Registrar) – art works from Melbourne arrived yesterday. Discussed a condition report and photos.

A man and a woman operate a pallet jack to lift a large metal crate. They are inside a storage facility surrounded by more large metal and wooden crates and shelving units.
Sarah Pointon and Scott Winston (Registration ) working in the storage area. Photo by Min-Jung Kim

9:45 Discussion with Alysha (Assistant Curator) – Checked and commented on captions for contemporary works from Korea for the exhibition publication.

A woman working at a computer at an office desk. She is turning around to smile at the camera. Her desk contains various folders and paperwork as well as a bouquet of bright flowers and a card.
Alysha Buss, Assistant Curator for the exhibition working at her desk, Photo by Min-Jung Kim

10:10 Answer public inquiries re Museums’ Asian objects

10:13 Work on copyright for music to be played in the exhibition.

10:17 Discussion with Skye Mitchell (conservator) re scent to be used in the exhibition. The idea was to evoke a Korean environment with scents such as pine trees. It was later decided not to use scents because of conservation issues.

Two hands each holding a thick foam sheet filled with approximately 20 glass vials in small rectangular grooves. These foam sheets have come from a small metal brief case which is sitting on the desk below.
Samples of various scents, Photo by Skye Mitchell

10:18 Discussion (phone call) with the National Museum of Korea regarding the loan objects.

10:40 Meet with Vicki Berlinden (exhibition designer) – discuss object supports for display

A man dressed in overalls holds a rectangular board and smiles at the camera. Behind him is an empty display wall for an exhibition installation in progress and another man working at the edge of the picture.
Tim Morris (Conservator) holding an object support. Photo by Min-Jung Kim

11:00 Discuss marketing materials

11:40 Discuss Korean media preview with Lee Hyung ho (senior resident fellow from the Korean government)

Two blurry cars drive past a billboard on the side of a car park. The billboard is black with 3 intricate gold objects on the left. On the right the billboard reads ‘Spirit of jang-in/ treasures of Korean metal craft’.
A mock up of the exhibition billboard advertisement, Qantas domestic airport, Sydney. In situ image by Boccalatte

11:55 Visit the object storage area to check objects

A woman stands at a table covered in plastic trays containing museum artefacts. The woman is wearing blue rubber gloves and handling a ceramic object. She is working in a warehouse environment with crates, trolleys, tables and shelving around her.
Skye Mitchell (Conservator) condition checking contemporary objects in storage. Photo by Min-Jung Kim

12:12 pm Have lunch at my desk and work on exhibition theme labels

1 :00 Meet with Estee Wah (online developer) to discuss website – select images for the nine sections of the online exhibition.

Multiple documents and writing utensils laid out on a desk. One document contains images of several intricate golden artefacts and another contains exhibition design drawings.
Writing object information and working on exhibition layout and catalogue layout. Photo by Min-Jung Kim

1:45 Work on exhibition labels and catalogue text – correct texts and translate theme title into Korean

2:40 Visit the bathroom & make a cup of tea

2:46 Continue working on labels

Two women stand beside a showcase filled with museum objects. The woman on the left is placing something inside the showcase.
Judith Matheson (Editor) places labels on a plinth before a showcase closes. Photo by Min-Jung Kim

4:15 Discuss contemporary sections in the exhibition with assistant curator

4:40 Receive a phone call from the National Museum of Korea

5:00 Work on marketing material

5:30 Discuss public programs with Young-soo Kim, Director of Korean Cultural Office in Sydney

Korean dancers on stage dressed in yellow shirts and pink skirts stand in two concentric circles holding up large intricately decorated fans.
‘Buchaechum’ or Korean Fan dance as a part of public program ‘Arirang: Echo of a Millennium’ on Saturday 29th October 2011:Photo by Min-Jung Kim

Tired and lost track ….

6:20pm going home

24 responses to “What does a curator really do in a day?

  • Hello, I am a student in high school who wants to be a curator. Is there any way I could have a conversation with curator Min-Jung Kim through e-mail?

    • Hi Kate,
      Thanks for your comment.
      I will send you an e-mail to your e-mail address.
      Min-Jung Kim

      • Dear Kim Min-Jung,

        I do find this article very useful. I do have some more questions thought.
        * If a museum receives a collection or find more work that has not been showed before, how will the museum go about?
        * What are the important (most important) steps? …
        1) after receiving the collection
        2) If the museum decides to organise an exhibition with the received collection.
        * What problems/difficulties are to be focused on? (what challenges could be expected)
        * How do a curator approach the process concerning “coming up” with the concept for the exhibition?
        ** How important are the art work self concerning forming the concept?

        I would really appreciate some information / answers for these questions.

        Thank you in advance.
        Niala Orsmond

  • Hello,
    I just wanted to say how helpful this post was to me! I was very seriously considering studying to be a curator next year and reading this post helped to confirm my idea as I found that everything you did in this day sounded as though it would suit me.
    Is there any chance you would be able to give me any further insights to this career option?
    Thank you again!

  • What a great site to help teach kids about the job of a curator! Thank you for your information and photos. I was looking for a web site that would give my students an inside look at the job of Art Museum Curator and found very little information that would be of interest to them.
    I will be back with my entire class next week!
    Thank you! Kim

  • Hi, not sure if this will be seen as it’s been a few months since this article came out, but I also had some questions about curating if I could please get in contact with Min-Jung Kim?
    Would really appreciate it, thank you!

  • This was very helpful. I am currently doing a “Curatorial Practices” Class at University, and I had no idea what ‘Curatorial’ means. As being a ‘Curator’ it gives me the idea that the role as a Curator values upon development of exhibitions. Right? A Curator is like a guardian/director/organizer of either a gallery, museum, gallery, etc…?

  • I’ve been looking into becoming a curator and I was just curious if this is every day or just on busy days? I hope these are regular days to keep my mind occupied instead of one particularly busy day to be showcased. Thanks for this!

    • Hello Ally,

      Thanks for your interest in our blog. When you’re a curator every day is different. It really depends what projects you are working on at the time. You could be researching a particular area of the collection, planning an exhibition, writing an article about the collection, taking tours of the museum or behind the scenes… The list goes on. One thing you can be sure of is that every day is busy!

      Next Wednesday Sept 16th is #askacurator day on Twitter. Min-Jung Kim and many other curators at the Museum and around the world will be available to answer your questions…. The museum’s twitter handle is @maasmuseum
      … Ask us more! We look forward to talking to you again.

      Tilly Boleyn, Curator

  • Hi, I am in high school and need to interview someone with a job that I would like, I was wondering if I might be able to e-mail a few questions to curator Min-Jung Kim.

  • Dear Ms. Kim,

    My name is Vuong and I’m a reporter of Forbes Vietnam magazine. I’d love to interview you about your work as an art curator. Is it possible that I could have your e-mail address for better communication? Thank you very much.

    Best regards,


  • Hello,
    As a high school student, I was doing research on some careers that I would like to do in the future. I came upon this website and I was so amazed and interested in all that your job consists of. I was wondering as to what schooling you went through in order to get to where you are and how one becomes a curator.
    Thank you,
    Kathleen O.

  • Hello,
    I am currently in an undergraduate program to get my bachelors in Fine Arts and a minor in History. I was wondering if you had suggestions for graduate programs that would be worth looking into for a curitorial based masters program!
    Thank you,
    Casi C.

  • Hi!
    I’m a high school student who is interested in becoming a curator. I was wondering if anyone could give me advice on classes I could take to get me in the direction of becoming a curator?

  • Hi
    I have just finish my masters program in tourism and i found out that i want to be a curator. Can i still become one with my masters tourism program or should i venture in curatorship program. Do you know diploma programs that i can take.

    Thank you

  • I’m just starting my first year in college. I want to be either an Art/Museum Curator or a Field Archaeologist (both if I can! I absolutely love Art and Artifacts!). So my question is, once I complete my associate’s degree and transfer to a proper university with a lot more opportunities, should my main focus be Archaeology/Anthropology or History/Art History/Cultural Studies? I mean I’m pretty sure I can take courses in both but I don’t know which degree I should get or if I can even get two degrees. Also, during my research into potential career paths, I came across something called “Museum Studies”. I didn’t know something like that even existed nor am I sure which schools even offer that. Does anyone know what exactly that consists of? One last question, I know this is a lot, but what about Visual Communication? I’m not sure whether or not I should take a course in Viscom since it’s a very broad field (I figure since Curators help plan and design Art exhibits it might be beneficial to take this course but again, I’m not sure if it’s needed, at least right now). Any help would be greatly appreciated 🙂

    • Hi Tia,
      Thanks for contacting the Museum and it’s great to hear that you’re interested in pursuing a career in either Curating or Archaeology. I’ve put your request out to our Curatorial team and will ask them to respond to you directly.
      Best of luck in your future studies and career!
      Sarah, MAAS

      • Hi again Tia,

        I put out your query to our team, and received the following response for Alysha Buss, one of our amazing Assistant Curators. I am posting the response here, in the hope that it may be helpful to others pondering similar questions:

        “I have studied archaeology, anthropology, art history, heritage studies and museum studies, so I understand your dilemma over which path to pursue. I remember deliberating for a long time over my undergrad major!

        I would recommend talking to your archaeology/anthropology lecturers, or curators at your local museum to get their advice. Also, start to think about what your dream job might be and then look up job ads to see what is required for the job and what it specifically entails. The Leicester University’s Museum Studies jobs page lists jobs from mostly the UK, but some others from around the world, and might be a good place to start. It is even a good place to see what sort of jobs exist in museums/culture/arts/heritage. Your local museums association or ICOM branch would also be good to look at.

        I would also recommend starting your degree and seeing which subjects you enjoy the most and seeing where your strengths lie – that might help the path reveal itself. Volunteering at your local/ university museum or in the archaeology labs or digs associated with the uni might also help you to get a sense of what you enjoy.”
        At the end of the day, every institution and role is different, so it is impossible to tell you what the ‘right’ path is for you, but I hope that these suggestions help. Several of our curators also pointed out (based on you saying that you had just finished college) that you were probably living outside Australia, so we didn’t want to give you too much information that was specific to Australian courses and careers. Finally, as this is obviously a complex and very individual question, several curators recommended that seeing a careers advisor may help you with making a decision.

        Best of luck in your future studies and career.

        Sarah Reeves, MAAS

  • Dear Ms.Kim,

    I am a grade five student, and I am currently doing a school project about museums and museum curation. I would like to have your answers to these questions:
    1)How do museum curators make their decisions for putting together an exhibit?
    2)How do you choose pieces for the exhibits you have curated?
    Thank you in advanced!

    • Hi Necla,

      I’m sorry that no one ever responded to your question and hope you managed to get some answers for your school project. I thought that I would post a response anyway in case it is useful to others in the future.

      I guess the answer is that how we make decisions and choose what objects to display in an exhibition is different every time. But it always begins with thinking about the story we want to tell, and by exploring what objects are in our collection related to that topic or theme. We consider how the objects in the collection will look on display and which will contribute most strongly to the exhibition storyline. We also work closely with the Museum’s Conservators to ensure we can safely display the object, and to decide exactly how they will be displayed (object supports and light levels). Sometimes we acquire new objects for the exhibition, which also add to the Museum’s broader collection. Other times we may borrow objects from artists, scientists or other museums and galleries to fill a gap in our exhibition storyline. There are many other parts to creating an exhibition – researching the topic and the specific objects we want to put on display, and writing the explanatory labels that will appear with them in the exhibition. But I hope this gives you – and others out there reading – a taster of the Curator’s decision-making process 🙂

      Sarah Reeves, MAAS

    • Hi Kiara,
      Thanks for getting in touch. I’ve forwarded your comment to Min and asked her to email you back.
      Sarah Reeves, MAAS

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