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Museum bosses need to exhibit storytelling skills

Published on Thursday, 25 Nov 2010
A curator (second right) and technicians examine an exhibit at the Hong Kong Museum of Art. Curators work in fields from visual arts to archaeology.
Photo: Dustin Shum

To curator Alice Tsang Chee-ho, being an engaging and effective storyteller is a crucial job requirement.

"A curator [designs] an exhibition to entertain and educate the public," says Tsang, who works for Hong Kong's Leisure and Cultural Services Department. "It is important to be able to impart [our knowledge of the exhibits] in an interesting way, easy for the public to comprehend."

In preparing an exhibition, curators first come up with a theme, research the topic and then set up the venue.

Government curators in Hong Kong specialise in four areas - art, science, history and conservation. Graduates in fine arts or design are eligible for jobs in the art section, while those with a degree in history can join the history division. The science section welcomes applicants with a background in life science or related subjects, while the conservation team, responsible for maintaining exhibits and preserving or restoring objects, requires staff with knowledge of chemistry or applied chemistry.

Tsang says a curator's working hours can fluctuate. "When exhibitions are on, overtime is necessary. The transport of exhibits and the setting up of the exhibition usually take place at night after the museum is closed. Curators have to be on site to make sure everything runs smoothly."

Dominique Chiu Wing-suen, programme co-ordinator for Para/Site Art Space, a non-profit outfit run by independent artists, says a curator working at his group wears many hats.

"Our curator provides the direction for exhibitions, handles administrative duties and occasionally helps with fundraising," he says.

Chiu says it takes more than 20 years to become a curator, who typically earns up to HK$50,000 a month.

The career path of a government curator is more structured. A newcomer starts as an assistant curator two, earning about HK$20,000 a month. After five to seven years one can reach assistant curator one. Those with 10 to 15 years' experience may become a curator then a chief curator, who oversees the museum's operations, and receives over HK$80,000 a month.

Secrets of the show

  • Well-versed in current affairs to design an interesting exhibition
  • Strong research skills - the foundation of organising a good presentation
  • Creative and able to work within a tight schedule and budget

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