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Who’s Who in the Art Museum

If it’s on your bucket list to schedule a museum exhibition, volunteer or work at a museum, or see your art in a museum collection, you will benefit if you understand how a museum administration is structured.

While I haven't been part of the museum world since 2001, I am confident that what I share below can still be helpful to you. Keep in mind, however, that not all museums operate the same way, and there is a vast difference between how small and large museum personnel divide their responsibilities.

Let’s start with an overview of the basic museum hierarchy.

Museum Hierarchy

Board of Directors

Or University Dean, Provost or President. This official body is ultimately responsible for the overall well-being of the institution.

Director of Museum

Museum Staff


Now we can look at the individual roles of the staff members.


Museum directors are responsible for overseeing all operations. They keep the board of directors informed through regular meetings and as-necessary contact. They serve at the pleasure of the board.

Directors often have art backgrounds, but more and more of them have business experience and political (fundraising) acumen.

The director juggles trying to please the staff, the board, the university (if on a campus), the public, and volunteers.

How an Artist Might Work with a Museum Director

In museums with a curatorial staff, you probably wouldn't have much contact with a director. However, it might be necessary for a director to assume some of the roles below if there are only a few on staff at the museum.


Curators, who answer to the director, are the objects (art) experts on a museum staff and often hold doctorates in art history. Being the objects experts, curators shape the content of museum collections and exhibitions, and write and speak extensively about the art.

Some museums

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