Art conservation programs: How to become an art conservator

Art conservators can work in a variety of environments like museums or studios.

Art conservators can work in a variety of environments like museums or studios.

Conservation is partly science and partly art history.

Conservation is partly science and partly art history.

If you are considering a future in art conservation, there are lots of resources on the web to help you find your way. One of the most extensive and helpful guides is the Become a Conservator section on the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works website. This is a great place to start because it lays out the phases of the journey ahead of you. Before you dive deep into learning the logistics of your future, you might want to take some time to look internally at who you are. Being an art conservator takes a unique set of skills and qualities. You might want to read our list of the top qualities and top skills needed to become an art conservator. These will help you create a solid foundation for your future career.

Read our list of the top qualities and top skills needed to become an art conservator.

Read our list of the top qualities and top skills needed to become an art conservator.

Preparing for a Graduate Conservation program

Ultimate goal is to get into a graduate program, where you'll get more concentrated training. To get into a graduate program there are undergraduate programs/requirements that you can go through to qualify. Though each graduate program is sometimes similar in what qualifications are required, they do have some differences. You’ll want to compare each of the programs you are interested in to make sure you are taking the correct courses as an undergrad.

For example, to apply for Buffalo State's graduate program in 2019, you'll see that they require:

  • 21 semester hours of Art History

  • 16 semester hours of Chemistry

  • 9 semester hours of Studio Art

  • GPA of 2.8 or higher in the last 60 hours of the Baccalaureate degree

  • Completed the GRE test

  • Fulfilled other graduate admission requirements from the college

  • Supervised conservation treatment experience (highly recommended)

These are things that are helpful to know when choosing an undergraduate campus. You'll want to make sure the courses are offered that are required for the program you'd like to apply for. You may want to consider where that campus is geographically. When researching campuses, make sure you research the area to see what potential experience opportunities (museums, historical societies, conservation companies, etc) may be convenient to the college.

Preparing for graduate conservation programs webinar 

This is a great webinar by the American Institute for Conservation. Interviews from various North American graduate program leaders share their insight about being ready for graduate programs.

Choosing a Graduate Conservation program

Some graduate programs have a more concentrated focus (specifically paper, or archaeological). As you view each program, you’ll want to keep this in mind and consider what your goals are. There are campuses across the United States (and internationally) that have renown conservation programs. The Association of North American Graduate Programs in Conservation has a Member Graduate list that highlights:

You can also check out the Wiki for Conservation and Restoration Training, which has an extensive list of programs around the world and in the U.S.

Want a little help? Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups. Many members of these groups have already walked the road you’re about to begin walking. Ask them for their opinions, recommendations, and ideas for experience and programs.

Art conservation specialties

As you are getting ready to begin your career, you may want to think about what specific types of objects you want to work on. Conservation covers a wide range of categories including anything from antique pottery to military artifacts to historical architecture. The materials list is just as long covering metals, textiles, wood, ceramic, or stone. Perhaps you are interested in the conservation of historic clothing or antique vehicles. Maybe you want to focus more on oil paintings or artifacts from Asia. The opportunities for conservation specialties is endless! Once you enroll in your program and start having opportunities to learn and see what options are available, speak with your professors and associates to learn how they entered into the industry and how they found their niche.

Our beginnings

You can read about the backgrounds of our conservators and conservation technicians on the Our Team section of our website. You’ll see that not everyone takes the same path in the conservation industry and everyone has freedom to create their own result and specialty as they move forward in their education.

We wish you luck on your journey. Keep us in mind when you are looking for educational opportunities!

FYI: Not sure if this is the field for you? You might be interested to learn about the difference between restoration and conservation or even why it is important to preserve historical artifacts.