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Standards & Guidelines » CAA Guidelines

Standards for Tenure-Track Curatorial Appointments

Drafted February 13, 2020; adopted by the CAA Board of Directors on May 2, 2021.


Some faculty members with academic appointments in departments of studio art and art history, in addition to teaching responsibilities, have specified curatorial duties and expectations in conjunction with their postsecondary institution’s museum or art collection as part of their terms of employment, what CAA refers to as a “tenure-track curatorial appointment.” This work may include exhibition development, collection management, and research in support of their institution’s museum or gallery. There are currently a variety of conventions for tenure-track appointments: sometimes the curator holds a cross-appointment with or dual appointments in both an academic unit and a museum, but at other times their positions are exclusively within an academic unit with duties held in conjunction with the postsecondary institution’s museum. Tenure-track curators do not always carry the title “curator”; sometimes their title is adjunct curator, assistant professor, associate professor, professor, or endowed research chair. These faculty appointments are most often established to align the university museum, gallery, and/or collection with the postsecondary institution’s teaching and research missions, specifically those of public scholarship, civic engagement, and experiential learning opportunities.

As with engaged research appointments in other disciplines, many tenure-track curators may experience conflict between the values and the policies of their academic home unit. Although senior administrators often highlight the accomplishments of tenure-track curators as their work aligns with community and donor engagement initiatives, institutional structures, and research standards, the relationship between curatorial research and an institution’s tenure and promotion policies does not always clearly articulate how they are intended to be mutually reinforcing. These disjunctures have the potential to discourage, encumber, or prevent the faculty member from pursuing the academic work they were hired to do.  

The development of these standards was inspired by the faculty members who hold such appointments and are committed to developing the specific forms of curatorial research these faculty members were hired to do. These standards propose ways to remove the hurdles that impede tenure-track curators’ academic work and accord them with full standing as scholars and teachers in the disciplines of art history, museum studies, and studio arts. In addition, the standards do so with an eye to the precepts of academic freedom and the processes of tenure and promotion that distinguish the tenure-track curator from their peers at freestanding institutions. The development of this policy is further motivated by the marked growth and development in curatorial and museum studies programs over the past few years. The standards aim to support scholars who hold these appointments in the United States, Canada, and beyond. 

These related CAA guidelines should also be consulted as appropriate for tenure-track curatorial appointments: Guidelines for Curatorial-Studies ProgramsGuidelines for Retention and Tenure of Art and Design FacultyStandards for Retention and Tenure of Art HistoriansStandards for the Practice of Art HistoryGuidelines Regarding the Hiring of Guest Curators by MuseumsProfessional Practices for Art Museum Curators; Authentications and Attributions; Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts; General Principles for Academic Arts Administrators; Guidelines Regarding the Hiring of Catalogue Essayists; Standards for Professional Placement; and Guidelines for Evaluating Digital Scholarship in Art and Architectural History. See also the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries (AAMG)’s Professional Practices for Academic Museums and Galleries and International Council of Museums (ICOM)’s Code of Ethics for Museums. 

It is essential that the tenure-track curator be able to access the university’s art collection; the collection is crucial to their program of teaching and research. CAA’s Guidelines for Addressing Proposed Substantive Changes to an Art, Art History or Design Unit or Program at Colleges and Universities should be consulted when access to the art collection is restricted or becomes reduced. 


For purposes of this standard, CAA defines a tenure-track curatorial appointment as a faculty position wherein a tenure-track faculty member hired within a particular academic department is designated by the university to either work with a university art collection or produce curatorial projects in concert with the university art gallery or museum. In this way, tenure-track curatorial appointments differ from those of other faculty members who choose to engage in curatorial projects as part of a program of their research. Although tenure-track curatorial appointments are often dual or cross-appointment positions, they are faculty appointments in the fields of art history, museum studies, and the studio arts.

Hiring Practices and Job Advertisements

CAA’s Standards for Professional Placement provide guidelines for listing positions with CAA. As the Standards for Professioninal Placement indicate, the job description must “provide clear specifications about the qualifications and requirements” for the position. For the sake of clarity, CAA also recommends that job descriptions for tenure-track curatorial appointments include the following information as best practice, in addition to following those best practices outlined in other CAA policies and standards:

  • Title of appointment
  • Qualifications
  • Name of the academic unit, program, or department 
  • Name of university museum or gallery
  • Reporting streams of the department and museum
  • Percentage of tenure-track curator’s work accorded to their academic home unit and to the art museum or collection
  • Teaching load
  • Responsibilities for public art collections on campus or administrated by the postsecondary institution, with clear indication as to whether these responsibilities count as service or research
  • A clear indication of how service to the museum or public art collection may count toward service in the academic home
  • Details about how curatorial research and exhibitions will be funded
  • Duties that qualify for administrative leave (for example, the supervision of collections-management staff)

Developing a Workload Plan

As the work of the tenure-track curator often bridges across an academic department and unit, CAA supports the view that the tenure-tack curator’s workload is kept at parity with other faculty members in their academic home. CAA recommends that the museum head and department chair or head collaborate on developing an equitable workload plan for both the museum and academic home that balances the responsibilities to the collection and the department. Careful consideration must be given to curatorial work and realistic course reductions for time-intensive work such as cataloging, collections care, education and outreach, collections management, exhibition research and development, and working across two different units within the institution.

Responsibilities to the Collection and Museum

Tenure-track curatorial appointments generally have exhibition and research responsibilities to a particular collection, museum, or gallery. In some cases, they may also have the responsibility to bring forward the vision for a museum or gallery, which involves the determination of exhibitions for a specified exhibition space. In the absence of a museum or gallery director, the tenure-track curator has the ultimate responsibility for the collection. Within the context of the university museum or gallery, tenure-track curators should be treated with respect as museum professionals and, specifically, as curators.  

Responsibilities to the Academic Home Unit, Program, or Department: Teaching Loads

The primary purpose of academic art museums and galleries is to support the teaching and research mission of their parent postsecondary institutions, as well as to teach and train succeeding generations of students. As object-based centers of research and teaching, they sustain on-campus learning and often serve as the front doors of their universities, connecting town and gown. The primary purpose of tenure-track curatorial appointments, therefore, is to support the teaching and research mission of the parent institutions concerning the museum, gallery, and/or art collection. Their teaching responsibilities ought to reflect on those curatorial responsibilities. Some possibilities are suggested in “Research Standards” below. 

CAA’s Standards for Retention and Tenure of Art Historians indicate that “appropriate reductions in the number of classes taught are warranted when the position also includes administrative responsibilities . . ., managing visual resources or a gallery, or teaching studio courses.” Likewise, CAA’s Guidelines for Retention and Tenure of Art and Design Faculty state that “appropriate reductions in teaching loads are warranted to support . . . managing and maintaining . . . gallery facilities.” Further reductions in course load are warranted if additional administrative duties, such as staff supervision within the museum, are expected or required. Such reductions should be in keeping with other academic administrative appointments, such as department chairs. CAA strongly encourages the head or chair of the academic unit and the director of the gallery to work in consultation with the tenure-track curator on establishing realistic workload expectations and guidelines for both units. 

For additional information about teaching practices, see these related CAA guidelines: Guidelines for Curatorial-Studies ProgramsGuidelines for Retention and Tenure of Art and Design FacultyStandards for Retention and Tenure of Art HistoriansStandards for the Practice of Art HistoryGeneral Principles for Academic Arts Administrators; Guidelines Regarding the Hiring of Catalogue Essayists; Standards for Professional Placement; and Guidelines for Addressing Proposed Substantive Changes to an Art, Art History or Design Unit or Program at Colleges and Universities. See also the AAMG’s Professional Practices for Academic Museums and Galleries and ICOM’s Code of Ethics for Museums

Tenure-Track Curators, Research, and Research Standards

The tenure-track curator’s program of research or creation is primarily shaped by their institution’s art collection and/or museum or gallery. That a program of research is shaped in this way sets such foundational appointments apart from faculty members in their academic home, who often have more elastic parameters for developing their programs of teaching and research. Also, some academic colleagues who periodically choose to curate exhibitions at their postsecondary institution's museum or beyond may not fully comprehend the differences between their work and the work undertaken by the tenure-track curatorial colleague, who has a regular set of responsibilities to the museum and/or collection. The research of the tenure-track curator for the university art collection and gallery must be respected as academic research on par with the research of other faculty members of the academic home unit. As with all academic research, the academic freedom and intellectual property and ideas of tenure-track curators must be protected.

Research Standards

Although curatorial research is collaborative and the knowledge or creative work produced is social, faculty members are often in positions of power and authority over research subjects, collaborators, and students. Recognition of this authority is particularly important in projects that involve human subjects and living communities. Faculty members ought to consult with their parent institution’s ethics board as is appropriate. CAA supports the view of the AAMG that when a university or college employs a “‘faculty’ museum professional, it should clearly define the criteria for evaluation for tenure and promotion, including peer-reviewed exhibitions, catalogs, and other museum-focused publications that demonstrate scholarly productivity and valuable research, writing, and creative work that is often disseminated outside of traditional academic publications.” Additional information about relevant research activities can be found in CAA’s Guidelines for Retention and Tenure of Art and Design FacultyStandards for Retention and Tenure of Art Historians, and Guidelines for Evaluating Digital Scholarship in Art and Architectural History

CAA recommends the following categories be included in the unit, program, or departmental standards:

Curatorial Projects: Curatorial projects are research projects that include exhibitions (or a series of exhibitions) and related activities such as collections-based research, curators’ talks, symposium organization, writing and publishing catalogs, public lectures, web exhibits, collection catalog entries, repatriation of artworks, etc. Curatorial projects could also include the commission of public art

Collaborative Research: Curatorial projects are rarely the products of an individual, but rather represent the work of a group of individuals that may include community members, other scholars, students, or museum staff. Departmental standards must clearly indicate how collaborative research will be evaluated, including calculations of the percentage of a scholar’s contribution if necessary. 

In-House Publications: University museums and galleries publish original research in the form of exhibitions and print or digitally distributed content. Museum publications must conform to the highest academic standards for research and publication, including the scrupulous crediting of ideas and intellectual property; the work of photographers; comments made orally by other scholars, students, and museum staff; and notations that appear on the mounts of drawings, backs of photographs, or recorded in museum dossiers. The reproduction of artworks and images and copyrighted material should be guided by CAA’s Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts. Although in-house publications are rarely peer-reviewed in the conventional sense, CAA considers them to be a substantial form of academic scholarship.

Research of Pedagogy: Faculty with tenure-track curatorial positions are often responsible for leading students in museum work and curatorial projects. As noted above, appropriate course reductions ought to be allocated to offset the significant amount of time invested in these projects. In many cases, faculty-led student projects are also a part of faculty research projects. Department research standards must clearly indicate how such faculty-student collaborations will be accounted for in terms of faculty research credit, including research of pedagogy.

Collections Development and Documentation: This includes expanding or refining the postsecondary institution’s collection or subcollection of art pertinent to the tenure-track curator’s field. This type of curatorial project may also include cataloging the collection, developing and contributing to artist and object files, and the repatriation of artworks.

Policy Development and Legislation Advocacy and Development: This may involve developing and writing policies, guidelines, best practices, and standards for the faculty member’s home department, museum, postsecondary institution, or professional organization, or serving on an advisory panel for the development of relevant legislation.

Ethics: Curatorial Appointments, Engaged Scholarship, and the Ethics of Research
As is crucial for all engaged scholars, tenure-track curators should make an effort to promote an inclusive museum environment that values diverse perspectives, takes into consideration exhibitions and viewers from a broad variety of backgrounds, and challenges audiences to an open exchange of ideas, while also focusing on scholars and artists working with and from vulnerable communities.

In addition to these principles, CAA supports the view that all faculty with curatorial appointments should ensure they work within their institution’s or granting organization’s policies on human subject research, the research policies issued by Native American and First Nations communities, and all relevant policies and laws concerning human and Indigenous rights, discrimination, harassment, diversity, and privacy. All artists and art historians who have designated curatorial responsibilities should aim to foster collegial relations with their colleagues and staff at their home institutions and beyond. 

Authors and Contributors

Subcommittee on Standards for Tenure-Track Curatorial Appointments (2018–19): Carolyn Butler-Palmer (Cochair of Subcommittee), Associate Professor and Legacy Chair, Art History and Visual Studies, University of Victoria; Meredith Lynn (Cochair of Subcommittee), Assistant Curator, Museum of Fine Arts, Florida State University; and Marcella Hackbardt, Professor of Art, Kenyon College. Contributors: Charles Reeve, Associate Professor of Art History, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Ontario College of Art and Design University, and Past President of the Universities Art Association of Canada; Leda Cempellin (Chair, CAA’s Museum Committee), Professor of Art History, School of Design, South Dakota State University; Emily Stamey, Curator of Exhibitions, Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina; Norman Vorano, Associate Professor and Department Head, Art History and Conservation, Queen’s University; Scott Watson, Director and Chief Curator, Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery, and Professor, Department of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory, University of British Columbia; Barbara Fischer, Executive Director and Chief Curator, Art Museum, and Associate Professor Teaching Stream at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, University of Toronto; Emily Moore, Curator of North American Art, Gregory Allicar Museum, and Associate Professor of Art History, Colorado State University; David Riep, Curator of African Art, Gregory Allicar Museum, and Associate Professor of Art History, Colorado State University; Aldona Jonaitis, Director Emeritus, Museum of the North, and Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, University of Alaska, Fairbanks; and Colette Apelian, Adjunct Faculty, Advanced Academic Programs, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Johns Hopkins University.

Supporting Materials 

Association of Academic Museums and Galleries. Professional Practices for Academic Museums and Galleries. N.p.: Association of Academic Museums and Galleries and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, 2017.

American Anthropological Association Committee on Practicing, Applied, and Public Interest Anthropology. Guidelines for Evaluating Scholarship in the Realm of Practicing, Applied, and Public Interest Anthropology for Academic Promotion and Tenure. Arlington, VA: American Anthropological Association, 2011.

Boyer, Ernest L. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation, 1990.  

Butler-Palmer, Carolyn. “Big Art History: Art History as Social Knowledge.” Journal of Canadian Art History 34, no. 1 (2013): 148–65.

Eiland, William U. “Art on Campus” Guidelines. New York: Association of Art Museum Directors, 2009.

Ellison, Julie, and Timothy K. Eatman. Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University. Syracuse, NY: Imagining America, 2008.

International Council of Museums. Code of Ethics for Museums (2013 edition). Paris: International Council of Museums and UNESCO, 2013.