Friday 18 July 2008

What does it mean to be a curator?

I've just read a really interesting interview with Douglas McLennan, creator of, an all-time favourite site of mine, and one of the five sites that opens automatically when I launch Firefox in the morning.

McLenna's not just a creator. He's a curator. To quote him:

The good thing about ArtsJournal is that it's a curated service. We define what the territory is and then pick out the most interesting things. The curation aspect of ArtsJournal is its strength, but it is also a weakness because the curation reflects mostly my taste.

As users have more access to more information on the Web, the sheer amount becomes overwhelming. So increasingly you have to depend on curators — other people — to find the good stuff that you want to see over time. So you find the curator whom you trust. That way, you have a way to navigate through a lot of information.

So, in this context, being a curator means winnowing the best* stuff from all the other stuff, as a service for an interested audience. Which suddenly made me think - what does it mean to be an art curator these days?

So I went to the web and typed in a few search terms: "become a curator" "career curator" "curator job". Sadly, I didn't find anything risible. What I did find though were some fairly happy outlooks: Monster predicts an increase of 10 to 20 percent in employment of curators through 2008, and rates the career outlook as 'good'

Less positively, the British careers guidance website Prospects notes that long-term career prospects are uncertain and the US Dept of Labour notes that competition is tremendous as there are far more MA grads than jobs.

But best of all, our very own New Zealand Career Services site has a literal forecast:

Funny as I find that, the info about this career option on the site is interesting and, I think, probably very useful if you have a teenager at home keen to throw themselves into the arena:

  • Turnover among curators is low, partly because of New Zealand’s small population and the limited number of curator jobs available. Vacancies usually occur when people change employers or move into more senior roles. Because of this, curators need to be flexible about moving to where jobs are available
  • Curators usually earn between $40,000 and $70,000 a year depending on their level of responsibility and the size of the institution they work in.
  • The highest proportion of people were employed in the Wellington (28%) Auckland (26%) and Canterbury (11%) regions.

*McLennan recognises that 'best' in this context means 'what I consider to be the best'.

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