The Conservation Starter logo with crossed swab and scalpel
The Conservation Starter logo white with crossed swab and scalpel

HOW DO I BECOME
A CONSERVATOR?

HOW DO I BECOME
A CONSERVATOR?

7 Steps to Become an Art Conservator / Museum Conservator / Object Doctor!

7 Steps to Become an Art Conservator / Museum Conservator / Object Doctor!

How do you become a conservator aka art conservator or object doctor? How do you touch and preserve the world’s heritage? Join me, a professional conservator, as I tell you the 7 key steps to being a conservator and having a career in conservation!

Conservation (also known as art conservation or museum conservation) is a mixture of science, art and history. It requires you to get professional training and continually develop your skills and knowledge. Spoiler alert: Becoming a conservator isn’t easy, but it is an incredibly rewarding career.  I have broken down the process into 7 key steps.

 

1. Discover conservation

Some ways you can discover conservation include: get to know a conservator, read about conservation in media or social media, see a live conservation treatment or watch a video about conservation.

 

2. Experience conservation

Work out if this is the right career path for you! Check out the incredible online resources developed by national and international bodies (see the resources below). Become part of informal discussion groups where emerging conservators or people aspiring to be a conservator ask questions (such as Facebook groups and Reddit). Find out more by watching behind-the-scenes videos or attend a behind-the-scenes tour of a gallery, library, archive or museum. Talk to conservators, conservation scientists, collection managers – anyone that could give you more information on what it is like to work as a conservator. To work out if it is the right career for you, the best thing is to get hands on experience. If it is possible for you, intern or volunteer on a short-term basis.

 

3. Choose a specialisation

Often conservation courses require you to choose your specialisation before studying. Make sure you are aware of all the various conservation specialisations. Choose what will work with your strengths, knowledge and experience. You can specialise in a material type (for example metals, glass, ceramics, books and paper, paintings, etc.), or you in a particular function (for example exhibition conservator, conservation scientist, preventive conservator etc.).

 

4. Study and train to be a conservator

Conservation training can take different forms. Typically it is a formalised degree at a university, with most conservation roles requiring a post-graduate level degree. Deciding where to study is very important. There are conservation courses around the world and they vary greatly in terms of duration of degree, specialisations on offer, where they are located and cost. Make sure you make the choice that is right for you. Research the course requirements and what you will learn to help you decide. Generally you will learn: conservation ethics and advocacy; how materials and items are made; how they physically and chemically change over time; how to prevent change from occurring; how to intervene when change has occurred, or possibly even reversing change through conservation treatments. No course can fully equip you to become a conservator. You will continue learning throughout your career. However, conservation training is foundational to ensure you can care for cultural heritage and make appropriate decisions.

 

5. Investigate a conservation internship or fellowship

This is optional! A conservation internship or fellowship can be hugely beneficial to continue your learning after studying. There are paid and unpaid opportunities. These are generally advertised in the same places as conservation jobs and through conservation networks.

 

6. Get a conservation job

Getting a job after studying can be challenging. Conservators can work in private practice (individually or in a group), or at an institution (gallery, library, archive or museum). Most state and national institutions will have a conservator or conservators. There are also roles in smaller, regional institutions where duties might broader and include registration or collection management. Become part of conservation networks to get notified when jobs become available.

 

7. Ensure lifelong learning and professional development

This is vital as working with cultural heritage is a huge responsibility and conservators need stay abreast of current conservation approaches. Conservators need to know new philosophies, techniques, technologies and tools. Attending workshops, online training or conferences can assist with staying up to date. You can become a member of a professional conservation body (national and/or international) and apply to reach accredited or professional status. Conservators are very willing to share their time and knowledge so I have found it is very easy to continually learn and hone my skills.

 

Conservation is an incredibly rewarding career. Conservators do amazing things – we literally get to touch and preserve the world’s treasures! However, a conservation career isn’t an easy one and there are many conservators and few jobs. You need to be aware of this before you embark on a career in conservation. Good luck with your conservation journey!

 
 
Lucilla Ronai's paper conservation tool box and tools

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