If you talk to museum staff about their work, salary will quickly come up in the conversation.
Most typically they will lament the low salaries or they will justify them with a statement about loving their work or improving the quality of life for their community. Salaries in museums are low for nearly all positions.
The other overarching truth about museum salaries is that they vary greatly. In the same city the curator at a big, grand natural history or art museum will make multiples of the salary of the curator at a tiny children’s museum or local museum.
In addition to these truths you should know that whatever salary you accept on hiring is likely not to change. You cannot count on regular increases in salary as you might at a thriving business. In your interview or negotiation make sure you ask about annual reviews and what salary increases you can expect.
Curators with no experience starting at a small museum can expect a salary equivalent of a public school teacher. With experience at a not so small museum a curator can expect to get $50,000 – $70,000 per year. 50% of the curators in one survey had salaries in that range.
Archivists can expect to be paid in the same range, but a bit lower. In a state or federal civic service position over time, the salary could be higher.
Conservator’s salary depends on experience and qualifications. If you are the world’s expert in a field, you have a lot of latitude in determining what you earn.
Exhibit designers can start in the $30,000 – $40,000 range. 50% of designers report salaries between $55,000 and $73,000. People who work for museums designing exhibits will earn less than those who work for commercial contractors. But the museum staff positions include more artistic freedom and, probably, a less frenzied work place.
More salary information and current job opportunities: