Assistant Curator
V&A Museum

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00:02 My name is Lizzie Bisley. I’m an assistant curator in the furniture, textiles and fashion department at the V&A.
00:08 My job is incredibly varied, so this morning I started my day doing some research on a Napoleonic medal cabinet that the V&A has just acquired and then I spent about an hour looking at an amazing 1950s Christian Dior dress. Tomorrow I’ve got some visitors coming in to look at some 1980s Italian designs. I’ll be meeting them in the store to look at that and I spend quite a lot of time doing writing and research on the collection and publishing things on-line, on the V&A search the collections database.
00:44 The best thing about working at the V&A is probably working with the collection because I find it incredibly exciting to work with objects. The V&A has an amazing collection, but in any museum collection, I think,  you’ll always find objects that tell you something very interesting and very unexpected about the period that you’re looking at or the people who made it, and no matter how many times an object has been studied, there’s always something else that you can think about it or discover about it, which is really thrilling. But the other great thing about working at the V&A is that it’s filled with so many interesting people. You’re always meeting people who have something exciting and different to tell you.
01:26 I really enjoyed history at high school and then went on to do my degree and had a job for a couple of years, working in a public contemporary art gallery, which was great, but I realised that I really wanted to do something that was more history focussed. So I came and started doing a masters degree in history of design and then worked for about three or four years doing about ten jobs at a time, managing to get little bits of research and editorial work and little bits of writing and kind of finally managed to get a job as an assistant curator, and I think one of the difficult things about getting into curatorial work is that there aren’t a huge number of jobs, so you need to be willing to take on lots of different things and look at it in as broad a way as possible and make your own projects if there aren’t any available, that kind of thing and attack it in as many different ways as you can.a
02:29 In the furniture and textiles and fashion department, we work a lot with young people who come in as visitors and so partly school groups who come in, either to have appointments in our stores and look at objects in the store, in the study rooms, objects that are in storage or we also give talks and tours to school groups, quite often, who come round. But we also offer various internships, often for students who are in a summer between two years of a degree programme. We try to give as much help as possible to students who want to work in museums and give them a real sense of what the practical work of being in a museum is like.
03:13 I think you need to be, to do a job like the assistant curator job at the V&A, you need to be interested in objects and you need to be interested in research and you need to be interested in history or thinking about what objects can tell you about the past or the present. You also have to be quite able to work in a very varied way and you have to enjoy practical work because a lot of curatorial jobs are quite practical. So you have to kind of enjoy a balance of research and writing and then more practical tasks and if you like that kind of balance, it’s a fantastic job because it’s so varied and you get to meet so many different kinds of people and do different types of work.
04:00 I think the main thing about trying to get curatorial work is to be as open minded as you can about things that might help along the way. So you need to be able to try lots of things out, take little bits of work where they’re offered, do little internships, if you can, because it can take, there aren’t a huge number of jobs, so it can take a little while to get in. But once you’re there, it’s worth the effort.
04:28 END


“You get to meet so many different kinds of people and do different types of work.” Lizzie really enjoys the variety of her job and the balance between research and practical tasks. After studying history at university, she worked in a contemporary art gallery, and then took a masters degree in history of design. Small pieces of research, editorial and writing work followed, before she managed to get a job as an assistant curator.

More information about Archivists and curators

average salary

The UK average salary is £29,813

average weekly hours

There are 37.5 hours in the average working week

44%  male 
56%  female 

The UK workforce is 47% female and 53% male

Future employment

Future employment?

? Archivists and curators collect, appraise and preserve collections of recorded and other material of historical interest.
Entrants require a good first degree in order to gain entry to a relevant postgraduate course. Many postgraduate courses also require applicants to have gained relevant practical experience prior to entry. Training is typically received on-the-job. Professional qualifications leading to NVQs/SVQs in relevant areas at Levels 3, 4 and 5 are available.
  • Examines, appraises and advises on the acquisition of exhibits, historic records, government papers and other material;
  • Classifies material and arranges for its safe keeping and preservation;
  • Maintains indexes, bibliographies and descriptive details of archive material and arranges for reproductions of items where necessary;
  • Examines objects to identify any damage and carries out necessary restoration whilst preserving original characteristics;
  • Makes sure that storage and display conditions protect objects from deterioration and damage;
  • Allows access to original material or material not on display for researchers;
  • Develops and promotes ideas for exhibitions and displays;
  • Negotiates loans of material for specialist displays;
  • Liaises with school and other groups or individuals, publicises exhibits and arranges special displays for general, specialised or educational interest;
  • Answers verbal or written enquiries and gives advice on exhibits or other material.
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