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Conservator

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Summary of occupation

Conservators use a combination of science and art to preserve and restore art and historical artefacts. They organise regular and systematic inspection of a collection to examine and evaluate the condition of objects, checking for damage to be repaired and ensuring they are stored in optimum conditions to minimise deterioration. Some conservators may be responsible for confirming an object's identification and authenticity. They may also undertake their own research into deterioration problems and conservation and restoration procedures, developing new methods to preserve and maintain collections.

ANZSCO description: Plans and organises the conservation of materials and objects in libraries, archives, museums, art galleries and other institutions.
Alternative names: Art Restorer, Museum or Gallery Conservator, Preservation Officer
Specialisations: Art Conservator
Job prospects: Limited
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Knowledge, skills and attributes

A conservator needs:

  • a keen eye for detail
  • excellent hand-eye coordination
  • a high level of creativity and good problem-solving skills
  • patience
  • an interest in history and art
  • good communication skills.
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Working conditions

Conservators typically work in a studio or laboratory environment, usually in museums, galleries or off-site storage facilities. They often work in environments where the temperature, lighting and humidity is controlled and specially designed to preserve the objects in a collection. Some conservators may work freelance, travelling between collections for short contracts when restoration work is required. They may be exposed to chemical fumes from substances such as adhesives and solvents, which can be harmful in large quantities. They generally work standard office hours, though evening and weekend work may be required to meet deadlines.

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Salary details

On average, conservators, classified under other natural and physical science professionals, can expect to earn between $1 500 and $1 999 per week ($78 000 and $103 999 per year), depending on the organisation they work for, and their level of experience. As a conservator develops their skills, their earning potential will generally increase.

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Tools and technologies

Conservators use a range of equipment depending on their area of specialisation and the type of work they are carrying out. Their tools can range from scalpels and fine paintbrushes through to heavy power tools such as bandsaws and drills. They also use a range of adhesives, solvents, paints, dyes and other chemicals to treat artworks, prolonging their life and repairing damage. They may use technologies such as x-rays, infrared photography and microscopes to examine artefacts for signs of damage and deterioration.

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Education and training/entrance requirements

To become a conservator you usually need to complete a degree in heritage, museums and conservation. There are no undergraduate courses in heritage, museums and conservation available in Western Australia.

The University of Canberra offers the three year Bachelor of Heritage, Museums and Conservation. Contact the university for more information.

Alternatively, you can complete a science, arts, contemporary arts or fine art degree at university with a major that is relevant to cultural materials conservation, followed by postgraduate study in cultural materials conservation or heritage conservation.

Most universities in Western Australia offer relevant undergraduate courses. Contact the universities you are interested in for more information.

There are no postgraduate courses in cultural materials or heritage conservation available in Western Australia.

The University of Melbourne offers the two year Master of Cultural Materials Conservation. The University of Sydney offers the 18 month Master of Heritage Conservation. Contact the universities you are interested in for more information.

Related courses

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Apprenticeships and traineeships

As an apprentice or trainee, you enter into a formal training contract with an employer. You spend most of your time working and learning practical skills on the job and you spend some time undertaking structured training with a registered training provider of your choice. They will assess your skills and when you are competent in all areas, you will be awarded a nationally recognised qualification.

If you are still at school you can access an apprenticeship through your school. You generally start your school based apprenticeship by attending school three days a week, spending one day at a registered training organisation and one day at work. Talk to your school's VET Co-ordinator to start your training now through VET in Schools. If you get a full-time apprenticeship you can apply to leave school before reaching the school leaving age.

If you are no longer at school you can apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship and get paid while you learn and work.

Related apprenticeships

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Recognition of prior learning

If you think you already have some of the skills or competencies, obtained either through non-formal or informal learning, you may be able to gain credit through recognition of prior learning.

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