What is a curator?

British Museum pediment

British Museum pediment

© Jack Shoulder

    • Literally speaking, a curator is someone who cares for or looks after something. It comes from the Latin verb curo which means to look after, to manage, to tend. So, on the simplest level, a curator is someone who looks after things. They are usually the experts who know everything about the things they look after.

      Robin Osborne, the director of the Museum of Classical Archaeology in Cambridge, said that “The curator is a facilitator, and what the curator facilitates is the access of the public to the object on display. Or, to look at it from the other end, the curator’s job is to maximize the impact of the object.”

      ‘Maximising the impact of an object’ sounds a bit worrying, but Robin isn’t talking about throwing them around.  Remember, curators look after things. Robin is saying that curators have to make sure that the public, people like you and me, can look at an object and learn about it - as well as keeping whatever it is safe.

      But what do curators actually do?

      Min-Jung Kim is the Curator of Asian Art and Design at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, and she has described what she gets up to on a typical day. As you can see, there’s a lot more to the job than you might think!

      Our friends at Culture Street have spoken to Esther, a curator at the V&A Museum of Childhood. They have made a short film together in which Esther talks about her job and what she gets up to as a curator of toys.

      Another curator, Paolo from the Horniman takes his job very seriously. He has become the Extreme Curator to teach us about extreme conditions so we can understand more about the natural history collection that he looks after.

      This is the film he made about extreme cold, but you can see the rest of the films here.

      The curators have interpreted their roles in many different ways, but they all agree that a key part of their job is to help visitors learn more about the things they look after.
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