The United States has more than 17,000 museums, according to the American Association of Museums (AAM). Whether you live in a metropolis or in the country, chances are you can find a nearby museum for a second career or volunteer position. Check your state's museum association for a list of museums and job opportunities in your region.
Education and Skill Requirements
Museum studies and professions are called museology. Like most 21st-century industries, technology is quickly transforming the field. Today's museum professionals have high levels of knowledge and expertise, according to Zinnia Willits, director of collections administration at Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, S.C.
"The museum profession is constantly changing," Willits writes on the museum's blog. "New standards for collection care, exhibition design, curatorial research, digitization of information, use of social media, educational programming, membership tracking and every other aspect of museum work are being discussed daily on listservs, blogs and at various gatherings of museum professionals."
Curator and archivist are the elite positions within the museum system. Curators collect, study and interpret three-dimensional objects. Archivists are responsible in areas involving paper, film and electronic records. These positions typically require advanced degrees in the museum's subject area. Those with undergraduate degrees may find entry-level work as technicians or in other specialized job roles.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the number of jobs for curators, archivists and archival techs is expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate, but notes that graduates face keen competition for positions. If you need to bolster your resume to qualify for a job, check out the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies directory of universities offering museum-related training programs.
The beauty of museum employment is that these American institutions require workers with a vast array of skills. You may already have the qualifications to launch a museum career. Museums need publicists, fundraisers, event planners, information technology experts, plumbers, electricians, drivers and retail specialists. Taxidermists, book conservators, photographers, landscape professionals and other workers may also find opportunities. Each plays an important role in helping a museum meet its mission.
"Curatorial scholars, conservation scientists and technical art historians melded into a tasty soup of cosmic union," says Allysa Browne Peyton about her experience at the 2011 Association of Art Museum Curators annual conference.
Browne Peyton, the curator associate for Asian Art at the University of Florida's Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, also notes the importance of multidisciplinary approaches in museum staffing: "Each ingredient will complement the other and amount to something greater than its parts," she says.