Job Profile of Art Museum Director

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Portrait of Miguel Zugaza, director of Prado Museum, Madrid on 26 April 2006.. Photo by Raul Urbina/Cover/Getty Images

What Is an Art Museum Director?:

An art museum director is an expert in understanding the museum's mission and collection. With this expertise, the director leads and manages the museum.

Duties of an Art Museum Director:

An art museum director is like the CEO of a company. The art museum director is responsible for running the museum which includes planning, organizing, staffing, funding and directing the museum.

A museum director typically oversees all levels of a museum's operations such as its annual budget, financial and fundraising aspects, plus exhibition planning, programming and development. 

A director also oversees the various departments such as visitor services, education, sales, marketing, and manages the museum staff which may include conservators, curators, preparators, and others.

A museum director is either appointed by a governmental body or elected by a board of trustees.

Skills Needed to Be an Art Museum Director:

Art museum directors are experts specializing in the museum's collection.

Besides being passionate and extremely knowledgeable about the museum's collection, a museum director has supreme managerial financial and business skills, as fundraising is a big part of the job.

A museum director must be a skilled communicator and mediator in order to work well with the museum's board or governmental overseers, its staff, donors and sponsors, and the public.

Education Needed to Be an Art Museum Director:

Art museum directors have at least a graduate degree in fine art, art history or museum studies. However, a doctoral degree on the museum's specialty or two graduate degrees are quite common in this competitive field.

Tools Needed to Be an Art Museum Director:

An art museum director is curator, director and business manager all rolled into one. There are no tools per se, but rather professional skills, education and experience are the requirements for this job.

The museum director is responsible for all aspects of operations including budgeting, fundraising and financial controls, programming and exhibition development, and maintaining and researching the collection.

How to Be Hired to Be an Art Museum Director:

To be hired as a museum director typically requires several years of museum management experience, in addition to the educational qualifications. One way to acquire such experience is to start off at a small regional museum to gain experience and knowledge.

Notable Art Museum Directors:

  • Alfred H. Barr, Jr. was the first director of New York's Museum of Modern Art (1929–1943) and helped to make modern art accessible to the public. His 1935 blockbuster exhibition of Van Gogh's work helped to make the artist a household name.
  •  Since 2000, Thelma Golden has been the Director and Chief Curator at The Studio Museum in Harlem.

    Gender Gap in Art Museum Directorships:

    Even though both men and women work as art museum directors, there seems to be some discrepancies in equal pay and status.

    According to a 2014 report published by the Association of Art Museum Directors, a gender gap in pay and position existed for Art Museum Directors:

    "Across all AAMD member museums, women hold less than 50% of directorships, and the average female director’s salary lags behind that of the average male director. The overall disparities in the number of female art museum directors and in their salaries are mostly driven by the largest museums. These museums have operating budgets of more than $15 million..."

     

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