Just like there are many paths to becoming an artist, nowadays, there are many ways to become an art curator beyond earning an art history degree.
This is partly because the job of curator can have many definitions. Generally speaking, a curator organizes or coordinates collections of art or cultural artifacts for a gallery, museum or other institution. However, depending on the particular role, their duties may also include collections care, article writing, interpretation, negotiating loans, leading tours, giving lectures, exhibition installation, and much more. Although there are numerous options when it comes to educational programs that focus specifically on curatorial studies to provide you with a strong foundation in writing, theory and research, completing such a program is not always a prerequisite for doing curatorial work for galleries, museums, or community organizations.
For those interested in curating exhibitions, we've gathered responses from a handful of curators in our community that share their experiences about how they got started. Whether you are community-minded and seek to help promote the work of your peers, you want to develop a new skill, you're aiming to earn additional income, or you've always been curious about what the position entails and want the opportunity to learn a different aspect of the arts industry, we know you'll both enjoy and learn from their stories!
How to Become an Art Curator: Stories from our Community
Cassie Fiorenza, Founder of Collective 131
I studied Art History in college and started an MA program after graduating. But I quickly realized I wanted to just start working, so I left school. I really learned to curate by working in the field and developing my own eye and style. I worked at a few art galleries, and was able to learn how to put together exhibitions. Eventually, I opened my online gallery, Collective 131, and I've been curating ever since. I've put together pop-up exhibitions and art fairs, like SPRING/BREAK, and I also had a physical space for about two years.
Charlie J. Meyers, Artist & Founder of The Moon Cheese Curator
I’m obsessed with communication, building community, and self-initiated projects. When there’s a gap or need, my first thought is “Why doesn’t this exist and how can we make it happen?”. Starting in graduate school, I saw the lack of communication between the English & French programs (I completed my MFA in Montreal) and started a social media platform to promote and connect everyone together. This led to assisting with curations in artist-run centers and other collaborations. At the beginning of the pandemic, I saw that everything was going online and suddenly amazing online exhibition platforms were being coded! I started Moon Cheese so disabled and non-disabled artists, could come together and have their work shown in online spaces during the quarantine, and it grew from there. I think online exhibition spaces are here to stay and they make a great complement to IRL shows, but can also stand on their own as contemporary spaces. Accessibility is inclusivity and it’s also oh so delicious! There is never enough art in my life, so having a whole show one click away only makes life richer. I see myself as part of a big art stew, helping make sure more people can get a taste.
Bree Smith, Artist & Curator
For my first curation gig, I was asked to curate a show by the owners of a gallery at which I had previously shown in a few of their group exhibitions. I was recommended by a previous curator who had asked if I was interested. I think the key in my case was having the relationship with the gallery & previous curator.
I had wanted to put together an all-female group show for years, and found out after the show opening that the gallery owner had been wanting to have an all-female exhibition too! I had no idea about this when I selected the artists—I was told to trust my own taste and judgment. It was an incredible experience to see all of the work come together so cohesively and see the artists’ reactions to the exhibition on opening night. I’m hooked, and hope to continue to do more curation!
Carolyn King, Artist & Curator
I started curating for a co-op gallery in my late teens in Oakland, CA. I learned so much about how to put out a Call to Artists that could possibly bring in submissions that would create a cohesive show. Through trial & error, I discovered that if we wanted a cohesive looking show, the call needed to be more wordy & specific. If we wanted a nice, wide span of responses to a theme, the call could be way more general and merely point in a direction as opposed to eliciting a more cohesive 'look' & feel for a particular show.
For the past 17 years, I have co-curated with a small group of fellow-artist/members for yes, another co-op gallery. Raices Taller 222 Art Gallery & Workshop installs exhibits every six weeks focused around a theme. During Covid, we curated online exhibitions and literally just welcomed the public back into our space this past August.
Colleen A. Critcher, Artist & Curator
My first curating experience was with an art collective that I started with a friend. We put together art shows in local businesses or empty buildings.
Sara Strong Glupker, Artist & Curator
I got into curating by asking. 16 years ago, I was showing my work in the town I lived in, in a space that was curated by my local arts council. For the show, I was asked to help their curator hang my work. As we were hanging the work, I became curious about learning how to curate and I offered to help the curator hang another show if she needed help. I helped her hang another show and we chatted the whole time. I was so excited about curating and at the end of our time together I told her I would love to do what she does and if she heard of any curating opportunities to let me know. About a month later, she contacted me about a new curating gig at a local cancer center. Fast forward 15 years and I am still their curator and have been creating and hanging a massive exhibition of about 70 pieces of local art among the center’s four floors. This also led to other opportunities - both in curating, selling my own art and commissions. I am a firm believer in asking for things you want and that doing things leads to other things!
Alicia Puig, Curator & Co-founder of PxP Contemporary
To finish off, I'll also share a bit of my story as a curator. Although I did earn a Master's in Art History, I started curating before this as an undergraduate student when I was in charge of running a small on-campus gallery at Kutztown University. I helped other students put together solo exhibitions of their work on a bi-weekly basis and managed the entire process from selecting the artists who would be highlighted to the takedown of every show. During this time, I also recommended one student's painting to be acquired for the university's permanent collection. Building on this experience, I took a curatorial studies course during graduate school where I had the opportunity to co-curate a show with my fellow students. After the exhibition ended, one of the sculptures was selected for permanent display in the lobby of the art building.
I did not do much curating for the first few years of my career working in galleries, but I watched how other curators built and prepared exhibitions, taking notice of how they arranged artwork in a space and paired or grouped artists together. I was fortunate to be asked to be a juror for an early edition of Create! Magazine (then called Fresh Paint), which was one of the first opportunities I was given to select artists on my own. From then on, as I progressed in my career and eventually launched my own gallery, more organizations began reaching out to me to serve as a guest curator and I've also pitched myself for the opportunities I wanted. Most recently, I was awarded an honorable mention for curatorial excellence for my gallery's booth at the Affordable Art Fair NYC's Fall 2022 edition.
While education or a degree can certainly speed up the process of becoming an art curator - networking, putting yourself out there, having a genuine desire to learn, and gaining experience can also work to your advantage! Want to learn even more about what it takes to become an art curator? Look for interviews from the Women Working in the Arts series on our contemporary art blog or listen to past episodes of The Create! Podcast.