Top M.A. programs to lead to curatorial careers? - Art History - The GradCafe Forums
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Top M.A. programs to lead to curatorial careers?


Beek2023

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Someone told me recently that the Williams/Clark program is the "gold standard" of MA programs if you want to become a curator (of historic/modern art) without a PhD. Does anyone know of any other cream-of-the-crop MA programs for those seeking curatorial careers? I have heard all about the "cash cow" programs like at UChicago, so now I'm wary of MA's in general. I'm primarily interested in pursuing a PhD, but just in case that doesn't work out I want to apply to a few strong MA programs as well. Thank you for any insight!

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20 hours ago, Beek2023 said:

Someone told me recently that the Williams/Clark program is the "gold standard" of MA programs if you want to become a curator (of historic/modern art) without a PhD. Does anyone know of any other cream-of-the-crop MA programs for those seeking curatorial careers? I have heard all about the "cash cow" programs like at UChicago, so now I'm wary of MA's in general. I'm primarily interested in pursuing a PhD, but just in case that doesn't work out I want to apply to a few strong MA programs as well. Thank you for any insight!

As far as I know Courtauld, Tufts, Hunter, University of Texas, Case Western Reserve are all good choices, especially for museum-related study. I would avoid programs like Columbia, NYU, etc., because of the “cash cow” status that you mentioned. There are probably others as well that other people can speak to. What type of art do you plan to study? That matters a lot as well. The most important thing is to go to a school that you can afford or that fully funds you. Most curatorial positions require a PhD, so if that’s your plan, it’s most important that you do really well in your MA program (whether it’s extremely prestigious or less so) and that you don’t leave with any debt.

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5 hours ago, millefleur97 said:

As far as I know Courtauld, Tufts, Hunter, University of Texas, Case Western Reserve are all good choices, especially for museum-related study. I would avoid programs like Columbia, NYU, etc., because of the “cash cow” status that you mentioned. There are probably others as well that other people can speak to. What type of art do you plan to study? That matters a lot as well. The most important thing is to go to a school that you can afford or that fully funds you. Most curatorial positions require a PhD, so if that’s your plan, it’s most important that you do really well in your MA program (whether it’s extremely prestigious or less so) and that you don’t leave with any debt.

My area of interest is european/American modernism. Thank you for the detailed response!  

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The days of becoming a curator with just an MA are largely over, no matter where you degree is from. It's still possible in contemporary art and at smaller regional museums, and I've heard of isolated cases where the curator had accumulated a lot of curatorial experience and published, but otherwise a PhD is pretty much a prerequisite now. 

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  • 6 months later...

I disagree with the previous posters. I have seen many cases in recent years of curators with just MA degrees. I have been told by professors that PhDs are becoming less and less necessary if you have a lot of "real-world" experience. For MA's I see Hunter and Tufts as the best. 

Personally, I am going into a Ph.D. program, not because of my desire to be a curator (which I still do want) but because it is a personal goal of mine.

My fields are feminist/queer contemporary 80-90s
 

Edited by aik257
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For contemporary art, yes. A lot of curators have MA's and do just fine. You don't need a PhD to be a curator of contemporary art, since the job entails being a strong writer and good communicator (working with living artists). This is not the case for all fields, however. 

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  • 2 months later...
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I, too, am aiming to expand my curatorial practice by returning to school. Right now, I am an independent curator (and visual arts manager full-time) and am building a name for myself in my current city. However, this is very different than working as an assistant or associate curator at a museum. (Right now, I manage and often curate exhibitions in my current position but wish to work in a larger and better paying, ideally academic setting in the future. I already know the average salaries for arts professionals, so have no illusions about that). I am still waiting on a few decisions but have been accepted to a couple of MA programs and waitlisted for a Ph.D. program. I would love people's opinions based on my career objectives (focus is contemporary Latin American art) and my current options:

1. Hunter MA - did not receive funding, asked to be reconsidered for funding, waiting to hear. If I were to choose Hunter with no funding, I would most likely enroll in one course per semester (including summers) while paying out of pocket and working full-time (tuition itself would be under $20k after all is said and done, not factoring in the cost of NYC living). Two contemporary Latin American specialists with great reputations in the field. Based on the program requirements and the credits I can potentially transfer in, I would be in the program for around three years in total. Obviously, it's NYC, so opportunities abound.

2. RISD Global Arts and Cultures - received a full tuition fellowship which would cover all tuition costs throughout my studies, would attend full-time and work part-time (enough to cover rent and basic needs). The program is 1.5 years long vs. two. The course requirements are a little less than Hunter, with only three required electives. Highly regarded Latin American specialist who utilizes similar approaches in their research. Much smaller group of students, much more cohort-based. Current students are extremely interesting but not necessarily looking to be art historians. Opportunities to take classes at Brown, and build connections with RISD and Brown communities. Providence is much more liveable in regard to rent and life. My main worry is that I wouldn't develop myself as a specialist. I plan to talk more with my POI to learn more.

I would love people's opinions. I'm older than the average grad student so am a bit less risk-averse than in my younger years regarding finances and life. 

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