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Curatorial Program vs Museum Studies


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Hi everyone.  I am at the final stages of making a decision on where I would like to go for my MA. But I would like to float a question with you.  I am torn between two very good programs and am having a hard time making up my mind. 


First,  I am applying to MA/MFA programs in curatorial practice as well as museum studies (with a curatorial and exhibition design focus) and plan to then apply for a PHD in Art History in the future. I have a BFA in studio art and my goal is to pursue curating modern and contemporary art. I am specifically interested in site specific, installation art and new media. I also have a background in cultural heritage preservation but this is not going to be my focus.

Program #1 is a MFA curatorial program.  It is a private school and is quite expensive. They offered me partial funding and the possibility of TA work plus they have a large network in the area where I live and will assist me in finding a paid internship. This program is specifically focused on curating contemporary art,  as well as theory & criticism. I feel as though this program will give me a strong background in theory, writing as well as connections with working artists, curators and museums/galleries in the area. The program chair is also studying an aspect of contemporary curating that I am interested in. The big drawback for me is the cost. Even with funding I will have to take out loans to go here. And that is intimidating to say the least 


Program #2 is a highly competitive state school. It is a museum studies MA program. I can focus on curating and exhibition design. The school also offers more traditional museum studies courses such as fundraising, collections management, ethics etc that I think will be useful. The program is significantly less expensive than the other program to the point where I could probably pay for most of it myself without loans. 

I am leaning towards #2 because of a variety of practical reasons (cost, diversity fo classes/training). But #1's program is so fascinating I really want to go there but the cost is holding me back.

My questions are 

A) if I want to eventually apply to a PHD program in Art History which program do you think would best prepare me. Would art history programs prefer a curatorial practice background over museum studies or does it not matter?

B ) If I want to work in a fine art/contemporary art museum or exhibition space which program do you think would best prepare me for that career trajectory. 

Thank you for any advice. 

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No one can tell you definitively, as PhDs and jobs often involve luck in the sense of having the skills and interests the professors/institutions are looking for at the time. That said, generally, those who get admitted to PhDs have very specific focuses and are already well versed in the literature of that focus. From my understanding, PhDs aren’t necessarily meant to be for “learning” in the way undergrad or even an MA is. Unless you can demonstrate this, coming with a BFA and possibly MFA will be tough. 

If you want to curate contemporary art, the curatorial MA is better than museum studies, which is obviously more general. Some museums may or may not be ok with either depending on the position but similar to PhD programs, they want to be sure that their curatorial staff has a solid background in art history, hence why you’ll see more curatorial positions ask for an MA (and now ABD/phd preferred) qualifications for many of their entry level roles. Your best bet is to look at job listings and see what jobs you’d like, and what qualifications they ask for!

Edited by modmuse
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Well, the curatorial practice degree is a MFA. I honestly don't think a MFA will hurt that much as long as, your right, my research in the field is related to what the respective PHD programs are looking for. I guess I am more concerned that a museum studies MA may not look as strong as a MFA in curatorial practice. But the price difference is a huge factor. 

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