Museum/gallery conservators are involved in the care, maintenance and conservation of historical and cultural artefacts which are owned by, and displayed in, museums and galleries.
Some conservators focus their efforts on preserving and restoring a broad range of artefacts, using their knowledge, skills and experience of handling different types of collections.
On the other hand, some conservators specialise in the restoration of particular artefacts, such as archaeological findings, paintings, sculptures, weapons, lithographs, books, photographs, tapestries and ceramics.
The primary responsibility of conservators is to apply approved scientific and technical methods to maintain the environment where the artefacts are kept and exhibited. This involves providing artefacts with optimal light, temperature, humidity and pressure levels.
Moreover, these guys will conduct hands-on restoration activities. Firstly, this process involves the inspection and analysis of artefacts using state-of-the-art equipment, such as X-ray machines and microscopes. You’ll also be maintaining detailed records of decay and the extent to which the artefacts have suffered damage.
Following this assessment process, you’ll be liaising with other expert conservators and planning restoration activities. Finally, you’ll delicately and meticulously be cleaning, repairing and rejuvenating the objects in your possession using specialist tools and chemicals.
In order to be a successful conservator, you’ll need to keep your skills up to date and practise the most modern conservation procedures and restoration techniques.
Some of these guys also conduct research-based activities and provide information about museum collections to the public through guided tours, workshops and other events.
Salary & benefits
Annual salaries for entry-level museum/gallery conservators are around £20,500 to £22,000, while professionals with a few years’ experience can earn between £22,000 and £24,000 per annum.
Senior conservators can earn between £25,000 and £30,000, and those with management responsibilities can earn between £35,000 and £40,000 a year.
Work schedules depend on the specific type of conservation work being carried out, but are usually around 35-40 hours per week on a nine-to-five basis. You may, however, have to work extra hours when it comes to meeting project deadlines.
Independent work as a freelancer is also possible for conservators with a broad range of experience or specialist expertise.
To enter this profession, you will need a strong undergraduate degree (2:1 minimum) in any subject. However, a degree in art conservation, art history, fine art, history, archaeology, anthropology, museum studies, metallurgy, biology or chemistry may give you an edge over other candidates. In fact, many conservators also have a postgraduate degree in art conservation.
An alternative entry-route is participating in the Heritage Lottery Fund Training Bursaries Scheme, which is an internship for candidates without relevant art conservation qualifications.
People who take this route into the profession are granted a bursary of around £15,000 while they are taking part in the scheme. Not too bad, eh?
Training & progression
Training and development schemes depend on the type of employer. Most employers offer on-the-job training to entry-level candidates that often start their careers as interns or apprentices and work under the supervision of senior conservators.
After you have gained a significant amount of experience (five to ten years) you will be eligible to apply for the Professional Accreditation of Conservators-Restorers (PACR), which is administered by the Institute of Conservation.
If you wish to specialise in a particular area, it’s advisable to become a member of a relevant professional body. For instance, conservators specialising in painting conservation and restoration should become a member of the British Association of Painting Conservators-Restorers.
Opportunities for promotion within the artefact conservation and restoration industry are limited, with most employment opportunities being offered as short-term or fixed-term contracts. Flexibility and geographical mobility are essential for building a successful reputation and long-term career. Many people start working on a freelance basis for different clients in order to expand their prospects.