CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Survey

The Curator of the Future
A survey into the the current state and the future of the curator’s profession.

As the international network for museum curators of Dutch and Flemish Art before 1800, CODART attaches great importance to the development of the curator’s profession. Many have noted changes in the museum sector, especially in recent years, which greatly affect the curator’s day-to-day work. These observations from the museum sector and from CODART’s membership prompted CODART to commission a research project, to be conducted by research agency &MAES (Amsterdam). In addition, 2023 was deemed an appropriate time – the year of CODART’s twenty-fifth anniversary – to reflect on how the profession of curator of Old Master art has changed over the past twenty-five years and to look at the challenges for the future. Where will the profession be in twenty-five years’ time?

While the foundations of the curatorial profession are essentially unchanged, the modus operandi expected of a curator has been transformed. In dealing with issues regarding sustainability, diversity and inclusion and digitization, curators’ responsibilities have expanded. The sheer number and range of all these challenges make working in a museum more interesting than ever, but also more complex. How is the curator of Old Masters – sometimes described as a “nineteenth-century profession” – responding to these changes?

The survey in short
The research started out with the following questions:

  1. Paint a realistic picture and provide a factual overview of the current developments / current situation of the art curator. Can these developments be supported by numbers?
  2. Reflect on what the role and value of the art curator will be in the future. What is necessary to continue carrying out the core task? And what are opportunities to do this differently?

“The curator plays a bridging role between the objects, the museum, and the public.”

In the report resulting from this survey the researchers describe several trends that have an ongoing impact on museums and the role of the curator. From the analysis regarding the development of the curator’s profession several points for discussion are distilled. These points serve as a prompt for discussion, not only among CODART members, but also more widely, among stakeholders and within the museum sector as a whole. Following the chapters about the background and results of the survey, the researchers conclude with a number of opportunities and enabling conditions, which can be of help to support the further development of the profession. You will find these summarized below.

“While other departments have grown in size, the number of curators seems to have stayed the same or even decreased.”

Opportunities for curators

  1. Outsource more activities;
  2. Widen your horizon and work as a team;
  3. Create time and opportunity to learn from each other’s specialisms;
  4. Pay attention to digital and technological developments;
  5. Explore your own collection.

“You have to make room for the unpredictable. The sense of space and resonance is gone from museums because of daily practice. Museums can take up a role again to create those spaces.”

Enabling conditions
To museum directors / management:
The content of the collection and the in-house knowledge about it is the heart of every museum. Give the curator the necessary time and space to conduct research and to perform his or her core tasks within the set working hours. In addition, ensure that the curator is free to leave the museum to find new sources of inspiration. This will benefit the museum’s policy in the long term. Make sure that your institution always has enough places for training and for junior or assistant curators. Create funding for mid-career curators to take a sabbatical leave.

To policy officers, public authorities, and interested parties in society at large:
Value quality over quantity. Invest in good stewardship of collections and don’t judge museums solely on the basis of visitor numbers or blockbuster exhibitions. Don’t leave financial support to private donations or project grants. Ensure that the care of our cultural heritage – intellectual as well as physical care – is structurally safeguarded. Appreciate that this care consumes money and time, but that it ultimately serves society and its identity, leading to greater understanding of our past.

To the museum sector
Devote more attention to the professional development of curators and ensure formal recognition for the quality of the art curator. The research, data, and interviews revealed that the position of curator has undergone enormous professional development over the past few decades. It is important to clearly define the job description, together, and to give curators the opportunity to develop and maintain various skills throughout their career. The curator should have a sufficient say in the guidelines to their profession drawn up by museum associations.

“How can museums ensure that the specialized knowledge about the collections and their history, and the institute and its history, remains secured over time?”

For the full report:



If you have any comments or questions about the survey, please contact us at 25@codart.nl. We appreciate your feedback.

The survey was presented during CODART’s Anniversary symposium in Amsterdam on 6 October. Various topics from the survey were discussed in three panel discussions. Find more information about the symposium here. It is CODART’s aim to continue to discuss the topics and results emerging from the survey.