What does the future hold for curators?

  • 17 November 2017

Discover Art Fund’s research exploring the challenges and opportunities present in the current environment for curatorship.

Talk with Curator of Fashion and Textiles, National Museums Scotland, Glasgow School of Art, 2017 © Chris Close 2017

Talk with Curator of Fashion and Textiles, National Museums Scotland, Glasgow School of Art, 2017

We're pleased to publish The 21st-Century Curator, our report into the evolving role of UK curators and their needs for the future – presented at the Museums Association Conference 2017 in Manchester and available to download. 

The last 15 years have seen huge changes in the operating landscape for UK museums and galleries. From fluctuating budgets to advances in technology and evolving audience expectations, today’s curators face a number of changes and challenges – as well as new and inspiring opportunities.

In 2016, Art Fund commissioned The Museums Consultancy to conduct research into this changing environment in order to offer an overview of the state of museum curatorship, to understand the current responsibilities of those working in curatorial roles and how these may evolve, and to explore ways the sector and Art Fund can look to strengthen curatorial practice in the future.

We launched our research at a session at the annual Museums Association Conference, where we asked delegates to respond with their initial views, answering the following questions:

How useful did delegates find our research?

The majority of respondents (78%) found our research very or quite useful, several stating it would be of benefit to them and their organisation with regards to advocacy. We also received feedback that through the research respondents' needs were recognised and supported. There was some disappointment that the research took a broad approach, with a more specific study felt to be necessary.

What are the top development priorities for today’s curators?

Respondents identified 'communication', 'storytelling', and 'digital skills' as the most important development priorities for curators and museum professionals.

What are the most important recommendations in our research?

Delegates ranked the recommendations in the following order, from most to least important:

1) Curators need support and training in order to meet new and diverse audience expectations
2) Museums and their supporters need to find ways to ensure knowledge is not lost
3) National museums should be encouraged to extend, on a truly national basis, their remit as disseminators of knowledge, resources and support
4) Networks need to be facilitated and the role of and investment in SSNs increased
5) Curators need champions for their work

n.b: Many comments included that all of our recommendations were equally important and so were difficult to rank.

Next steps

We were encouraged by the initial feedback and the potential of this (and similar research) to influence the sector and inform Art Fund’s charitable programming. Our charitable remit extends beyond funding museums and galleries to make acquisitions; we are also committed to support curators and museum professionals across the UK to develop new skills and deepen expertise, and will continue to examine how we can champion and respond to curators’ changing needs now and in the future.

Download your copy of The 21st-Century Curator here

Tags: Supporting museums