What it’s Like Working at a Major Art Museum

Whether you’ve wandered through the soaring rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum and wondered what it takes to get art on the (rounded) walls or you’re considering a career in the arts , look no further.

We caught up with Nancy Spector, deputy director and Jennifer and David Stockman Chief Curator at the Guggenheim Museum to hear from a leader in the field and to get a glimpse at the balancing act required to be at the helm of one of the world’s most prestigious modern art museums. Spector generously shared her insights on art in the digital age, starting out in the industry as an intern (writer’s note: I did, too) and the first work of art that had an impact on her.

Can you describe what being the deputy director and chief curator of a world-class art museum entails?

In a few words, I would say that it is an intense balancing act. As a deputy director working closely with director Richard Armstrong, I am responsible for content development at the Guggenheim in New York but also at our affiliates in Bilbao, Venice, and Abu Dhabi (which is currently in development). I think about the institution in a global context and what that means for our programming, our collection, and our engagement in cultures around the world.

Then there is the more granular management of our exhibition calendar, working with the individual curators to best realize their programs, ensuring we stay on mission, produce new scholarship, and foreground innovation. We are all fundraisers at the museum, so a lot of my time is also dedicated to cultivating patrons, helping to identify individual donors and sponsors, and formulating initiatives that might attract support. As a curator, I also have my own exhibition projects to research and produce, which has always been the core of my practice.

What does a typical day in your office look like?

I don’t think I ever have a “typical” day to cite. I can be in back-to-back meetings with the other curators, departmental managers, board members, or guests. Topics range from programming discussions, calendar andbudget reviews , strategic planning, acquisition preparation, collection management policy, and installation reviews, to name a few. But I can also be in the library or writing for much of the day. Then there are gallery and studio visits, for which I try to reserve time.

How do you balance the research and exhibitions portion of being a curator with the administrative duties of running a cultural institution; how do you wear both hats?

I try to block out time for research, reading, and writing in advance on my calendar so that I have days without meetings. But, to be honest, much of the creative work gets done “after hours,” if there is such a thing anymore.