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  • 1.  Independent Curatorial Projects - Policies & Best Practices

    Posted 15 days ago

    Does your museum have a specific policy for curators who want to do independent curatorial projects that are not affiliated with the organization? Do you have set guidelines for what they can and cannot do? This has come up recently, and we'd like to best support the professional development of our curatorial staff while maintaining clear boundaries that don't conflict with the museum.

    Some questions that have arisen include:

    • Curators being paid to act as juror/judges for other organizations.
    • Does it make a difference if their independent project is outside of the scope of their collection focus?
    • Can museum curators volunteer to curate exhibitions at commercial galleries as long as they are not being paid or taking a commission from sales?
    • Does it make a difference if the outside organization is in the same town/city as the museum?

    Any resources or guidance on how your museum handles this would be much appreciated!

    Lauren Nye
    Associate Curator
    Hunter Museum of American Art
    Chattanooga TN

  • 2.  RE: Independent Curatorial Projects - Policies & Best Practices

    Posted 14 days ago

    These are really thoughtful questions. If you haven't already taken a look at the Curatorial Code of Ethics on the AAM website, that might be a good start. I was part of the CurCom Professional Network when this was updated. Despite the fact that there are numerous topics to add, edit, or expand, it remains a helpful document.


    Similarly on the AAM website is the Curator Core Competencies It's another worthwhile reference about parameters for curators, although it may not relate directly to what you are asking.


    In the meantime, I will be glad to forward this inquiry to the AASLH Ethics Committee, on which a serve. There are a variety of codes of ethics from professional organizations that a colleague has compiled that might provide even more insights.


    Ellen E. Endslow

    Director of Collections/Curator

    Chester County History Center

    225 N. High Street

    West Chester, PA  19380

    610-692-4066 x257



  • 3.  RE: Independent Curatorial Projects - Policies & Best Practices

    Posted 14 days ago

    Thank you so much, Ellen. I do have a direct inquiry into AAM as well, but this is very helpful. I would love to learn more about your committee's thoughts. 

    Lauren Nye
    Associate Curator
    Hunter Museum of American Art
    Chattanooga TN

  • 4.  RE: Independent Curatorial Projects - Policies & Best Practices

    Posted 13 days ago
    Hello Lauren,

    I certainly agree with Ellen's suggestions for research into current codes of ethics regarding all aspects of our profession. I am not sure that contacting AAM directly will be of great help, since the staff there are not the arbiters of museum policies and procedures; for the most part AAM and AASLH professional committees work to formulate the guiding documents for museums, which you can find on their websites. Of course, you could always contact the professional committees yourself.

    It seems to me that some of your questions about outside activities for curators would actually be addressed in museum personnel policies, and sometimes in administration policies regarding what staff may and may not do. As a museum professional volunteering or consulting for another organization, you are always representing your employer, whether that relationship is publicized or not. Your employer should furnish you with a copy of its personnel policy, as a starting point.

    Conflicts of interest in outside activities may be defined in many ways, from dealing for personal gain, to lesser activities that might trade on your employer's -- or client's -- reputation. Sometimes, considerations of what constitutes a conflict of interest go to questionable lengths. One board I worked with wanted to exclude from board membership or consultancy, anyone who was a dealer, author, private scholar, or representative of a "competing" museum. In my opinion, that board's proposed policy could well have eliminated most, if not all, of the professional friends of the board's museum, and very valuable sources of advice and information. I hope that your museum's policies are reasonable and clear, or will be so once they are developed.



    A. B. MacLeish
    Curator Emeritus
    Newport Restoration Foundation

    85 Lake Street
    Cooperstown, NY 13326
    (C) 401-265-8607