How to Get a Job in a Museum: Curator

Digital Media
July 1, 2024

Ever wanted to know how to turn your creative passions into a job in the arts? Or just curious about what a museum curator does all day? We’ve been meeting with people from V&A East (and beyond) to lift the lid on all the weird and wonderful roles behind the scenes at the museum, as well as getting top tips for finding and landing a job – even roles you might never have known existed!

After getting the lowdown on all things administration with Jasmine in our last post, we caught up with Kristian Volsing, Senior Curator at V&A East Storehouse. He breaks down his career journey and reveals the surprising objects he gets to work with day-to-day (Barbie fans, keep reading…)  

What was your first job?

When I was 16 I worked in a trainer shop in Cambridge called Raw, and I loved it. It definitely ignited my interest in fashion and streetwear, and my lifelong love of sneaker culture.

What does a curator do?

There’s so much to the job, but for me the simple answer is: a curator helps people understand the world through objects. They decide which pieces go into the museum, how they are displayed and the narratives they represent.

Most curators have a niche and for me it is popular culture. Although people might think of traditional curators working with rare, historical items, I’m interested in everyday objects and their cultural significance. These objects will eventually become historical artefacts for future generations to study our society today.

Day-to-day, the job involves lots of conversations with artists and designers, developing exhibition ideas, working with collections, doing research, meetings about projects, writing and speaking at conferences. Surprisingly, there’s a lot of working with spreadsheets.

Can you summarise your career path?

I did a degree in English Literature and Film Studies. I didn’t know what I was going to do after university but enjoyed the research aspects and exploring film and pop culture. As a student, I visited an exhibition called Game On in Edinburgh, which explored the history of video games. This got me excited about the idea of creating exhibitions.

I then did an MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at Leeds University and volunteered at the Media Museum in Bradford, while working part-time as a library assistant. This helped me get my first job after my MA, at the National Maritime Museum Library and Archive. In 2007, I became an assistant curator at the V&A in the Theatre and Performance Department and since then I’ve worked my way through various curatorial departments. My first major exhibition was the Videogames exhibition at the V&A in 2018, so it was nice to come full circle and curate a show about my favourite medium, and the subject that got me excited about museums in the first place.

Top left: Kristian at work on an installation at Young V&A. Bottom left: Kristian at work on the 2018 Videogames exhibition. Right: Videogames installation view, 2018.

What have been some of your other favourite projects?

A highlight was being part of the curatorial team that developed Rapid Response Collecting at the V&A, which involves acquiring objects that relate to current events. Among others, I proposed collecting a set of Tom of Finland postage stamps issued by the Finnish postal service in 2014. These iconic images as stamps reflected Europe’s changing attitudes to LGBTQ+ culture, at the time in contrast with Russia launching an anti-gay propaganda law. As a gay man I also wanted to add some queer culture to the collection.

Another favourite was acquiring a Barbie doll of Laverne Cox for Young V&A in 2023. Laverne Cox is a prominent trans actor and advocate, and this was the first trans Barbie. It was a significant addition to the Young V&A collection (which also includes the first Black Barbie).

Left: Laverne Cox with her Barbie, 2022. Right: First day cover for Itella’s Tom of Finland stamps, Timo Berry, Finland, 2014

What’s the best and worst part of working in a museum?

The slow pace can sometimes be frustrating because our work needs to resonate across time, so we have to get it right. However, seeing the final outcome of projects developed from ideas to fruition after several years is incredibly rewarding. Engaging people with our work and presenting contemporary culture through live events, like Friday Lates, is also very exciting.

What skills and characteristics do you need to become a curator?

I would say you need a strong interest in a specific area of culture. Museums are great for exploring these interests, whether it’s art history, fashion or pop culture. Being able to passionately present and discuss your interests is also key.

Finally, do you have any career advice for your younger self?

Don’t accept the status quo. Push against practices that don’t seem right because you can change your working environment. When I started, museums were stuffier and more niche. Now, there’s more room for self-expression and speaking out. We need more of that.

For more updates from V&A East, follow us on Instagram @vam_east

0 comments so far, view or add yours

Add a comment

Please read our privacy policy to understand what we do with your data.


Join today and enjoy unlimited free entry to all V&A exhibitions, Members-only previews and more

Find out more


Explore our range of exclusive jewellery, books, gifts and more. Every purchase supports the V&A.

Find out more