Professional Roles


In a major public gallery this is a controlling position with the authority to make final decisions (usually with input from a Board of Governors and senior members of the professional staff). The Director decides the future direction of the Gallery – the area on which it will concentrate and the ultimate responsibility for arranging major art events.


A curator is a keeper or custodian of objects. The role includes:

  • Selection In a public gallery or contemporary gallery, the curator’s main role is selection of works. Eg., there are 20+ curators at the NGV each an expert in their own field. They are also knowledgeable about art history and art issues. The curator seeks to present related artworks in the most effective way, either stylistically or chronologically. Curators continually seek to obtain the best examples available to improve the gallery’s collection and make it more representative.
  • Recommendation A curator’s recommendations would be submitted to a board of trustees. Reasons for selection might include: unrepresented artist, significant works, need to supplement the collection.
They also make recommendations regarding conservation, catalogues, photography of art works, research, letters and articles.
  • Contact A curator dealing with contemporary artists would visit them. He/she deals with artists or their estates.
  • Research The catalogue that accompanies major exhibitions is compiled after careful scrutiny of the artwork’s provenances. Provenances are time lines showing the various owners of an artwork since it was created. Catalogues also record details of the artist’s lives and previous exhibitions.
  • Publicity The curator assists with publicity - liases
  • Fundraising

*NGV has departments which organise lighting, mailouts etc, but in a small gallery the curator would do it all.


The restorer in an art gallery repairs damage caused to artworks.


The conservator in a gallery is responsible for the maintenance of artworks; cleaning or replacement of picture frames etc.

Exhibition Designer
The task here is to estimate the number of potential viewers and to display the artworks in the most effective groupings, under appropriate lighting conditions and against appropriately coloured backgrounds. This keeps viewers moving through the exhibition space and prevents bottlenecks. – works out a floor plan. It is done in consultation with the artists themselves wherever possible.
Each work is measured and the best way to show the work determined. Works are also put into a model space to ensure that they would fit.
A number of things determine where works are placed:
  • Different categories - thematic
  • Media
  • Stories that might show in the arrangements
  • Size
  • Lighting - Fixed lighting rails
  • Light output - Works on paper (prints, drawing and photographs – 50 lux) (Works on paper only shown for 3 months then place in to light proof boxes for 2 years.) Works on canvas 100 lux (350 – 700 lux is daylight)
  • Sound - Sound works need to be separated
  • Health and safety issues - loudness, vibration, staff boredom through repetition
  • Display cases to show and protect works
  • Plinths to keep viewers at a distance but still see the work effectively. Any work on paper has a floor plinth or a rope.
  • Temporary walls to show work

Other considerations:
  • Flow paths – Is there room for viewing and movement around the works? Are you lead through a journey? Are there visual and/or conceptual links? Is there a thematic or historical approach? At the NGV they have worked to create a dialogue which suggests links between works
  • Labels? Patterns?
  • Audience – The audience must be considered. Large fonts for visually impaired, Children – can they see, Old people – seats.
  • Breadcrumbing – signs in other areas
  • Display – eg, unframed works on paper are pinned to the wall as pins do not affect the work. Tape, bluetac etc will gradually harm the work.

Designs invitations, flyers, posters, promotional flags.
Decides on fonts, colours and strong design elements to reach audience.
Designs are sent from the graphic artist (sometimes freelance) to the curator to the director (line manager)


Sponsors often support exhibitions through donations of money or services.

Guards and cameras watch continually
Maintenance is carried out daily
Health and safety concerns are dealt with
Preservation concerns are dealt with

Promotion and marketing
Promotion and marketing helps a gallery establish and maintain a public profile and audience.
The primary aim of the marketing manager when promoting an exhibition is to define the audience.
The audience then shapeswhere, when and how the exhibition is promoted.
Different types of galleries, depending on their budget, the types of exhibitions they are holding and the audience they wish to attract will all undertake some sort of marketing and promotion.
These can include:
  • An opening event with an address by the Director, an artist or invited guest speaker
  • Exhibition invitations, fliers and brochures used to promote exhibitions and events
  • Press releases and special media previews
  • Paid advertising in daily newspapers, art journals, street press and the electronic media
  • *Unpaid promotion – such as free listings in newspapers, reviews and critiques in daily newspapers and specialist art journals. For example, the gallery had an exclusive viewing of the exhibition for the media. They would have received an introduction to the exhibition from the director, and been given interesting 'stories' or bits of information that would enable journalists to write about the works from different angles and appeal to their particular audience.
  • Exhibition catalogues
  • Gallery website and emailing lists

Some galleries, including some smaller public galleries, don't have a large budget for promotion and advertising and tend to rely on free listings, their own direct marketing and email lists and critical reviews in newspapers and segments on specialised art programs on radio and television. Word of mouth is also a particularly effective way of promoting exhibitions.

If the intended audience for an exhibition is defined as mixed and diverse, and the publicity officer believed that the exhibition would appeal to a very wide audience, the exhibition might be advertised in The Age, the Herald Sun, Gallery Guide and Art Almanac.
In comparison, if an exhibition is aimed at an audience of 25 – 40 year olds who were familiar with the Melbourne art scene, it might be advertised in Beat magazine, Scene and Real Time and promoted on an alternative radio station, such as 3RRR.