Ask a Curator Day

2018-02-11T17:08:10+00:00By |

We’re all curious about what goes on behind closed doors, and that’s true for museums and galleries and historical societies, as well as private residences.

Spencer F. Baird, the first Curator of the National Museum and second Secretary of the Smithsonian, oversaw the development of the Smithsonian as the national museum of the United States.

Spencer F. Baird, the first Curator of the National Museum and second Secretary of the Smithsonian, oversaw the development of the Smithsonian as the national museum of the United States.

My favorite closed doors are at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Also the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum.

I pause and stare at those giant wooden doors in wonder, hoping for a glimpse of the lucky staff members who pass through.

If I only lived in D.C., I could work at the Smithsonian and turn those elegant brass knobs and enter the realm of the curator.

According to the Guardian news site, “This global Twitter-based event connects experts in venues large and small directly to gallery and museum fans across the world, inviting both parties to take to their handles and ask each other anything they want.


Have you ever wondered what a curator does? Have a question about an exhibit or a collection? Not necessarily a curator at a huge, national museum, but maybe at your local historical society museum?

Well, here’s your chance. On Sept. 16, 2015, at last count, 915 museums in 47 countries will participate in #AskACurator Day on Twitter.

Now if we could only figure out Time Travel, I could ask a question of the first curator of the Smithsonian National Museum, Spencer F. Baird.

The Smithsonian website says this about Baird:

During his thirty-seven years at the Institution, (Baird) had transformed the US National Museum into the premier museum in the United States, and he trained a cadre of young naturalists who continued his research and collecting. Baird was an exuberant enthusiast who wanted the Institution to play an important role in the lives of all US citizens, especially through the US National Museum. His passion for collections and public education altered the previous path of the Institution and brought new meaning to its motto of “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

Curators from 3 historic sites along the PA Trails of History will answer questions via #AskACurator . @AskACurator

If you are a curator, or know one who might be interested in participating, send them this link >>>

If you’re interested in asking a curator a question, here’s a recent list of participating U.S. curators:


United States
Acadia National Park Sawtelle Research Center @ACAD_SawtelleResearchCenter  Collection (artwork)/ National History Museum/ Natural History
Ackland Art Museum/ UNC-Chapel Hill @AcklandArt Collection (artwork)/ Local museum/ University museum/ Art Museum
Albright-Knox Art Gallery @AlbrightKnox Collection (artwork)
Adler Planetarium @AdlerPlanet Science museum
Akron Art Museum @AkronArtMuseum  Collection (artwork)/ modern and contemporary art museum
American Federation of Arts @MmhargMichelle Art exhibitions
American Museum of Natural History @AMNH Natural History
Angels Gate Cultural Center @angelsgateart art cultural center
Arab American National Museum @arabamericanmus Ethnographic village
Arlington Museum of Art @arlingtonmuseum Collection (artwork)
Artist Pension Trust @APTGlobal International collections of contemporary art for rent/ loan or purchase
Artsy @Artsy Online platform for museums
Asia Society Texas Center @asiasocietytx Asian Art
ASU Art Museum @ASUArtMuseum Ceramics museum/ University museum/ Contemporary Art museum
Atlanta History Center @AtlHistCenter  Collection (artwork)/ History/ Interpretation centre
Autry National Center of the American West @theAutry History
Baltimore Museum of Art @artbma Collection (artwork)
Birmingham Museum of Art @bhammuseum Collection (artwork)
Blanton Museum of Art @blantonmuseum Collection (artwork)/ University museum
Bowers Museum @BowersMuseum Collection (artwork)/ arts and cultures
Box Elder Museum of Art History and Nature @boxeldermuseum Collection (artwork)/ Geology museum/ History/ Local museum/ National History Museum
Brandywine River Museum of Art @BranRiverMuseum Collection (artwork)
Brigham City Museum of Art & History @boxeldermuseum History/ Local museum/ Art Museum
Brooklyn Museum/ Arts of Africa and the Pacific Islands Collections @BKLN_AfrPac of @brooklynmuseum  (artwork)/ Art
Bruce Museum @thebrucemuseum National History Museum/ Science museum/ Art
Burchfield Penney Art Center @bpartcenter University museum/ Art museum
California Academy of Sciences @calacademy Green museum/ Local museum/ Natural History/ Science center/ Science museum/ Aquarium/ planetarium/ four-story rainforest
California Automobile Museum @CalAutoMuseum History/ Transport museum/ Automobile Museum
Cape Fear Museum @capefearmuseum History/ Local museum/ Science center/ Science museum/ county owned museum
Carnegie Museum of Art @cmoa Collection (artwork)
Carnegie Museum of Natural History @CarnegieMNH National History Museum
Center for Folklife and Cultural Hertiage/ Smithsonian Institution @SmithsonianFolk Heritage centre/ Living museum/ Archive/ Record Label/ Festival/ Research
Chappell Hill Historical Museum @C_H_Museum History/ Historical Society
Chemung County Historical Society @MarktheMammoth History/ Local museum
Chicago History Museum @ChicagoMuseum History
Chipstone Foundation @chipstone_org Decorative Arts Museum
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center @cthc_duncan Children’s museum/ Collection (artwork)/ Heritage centre/ History/ Local museum/ Chisholm Trail western history (old west – cowboys)
Chrysler Museum of Art @chryslermuseum  Art Museum
Church History Museum @churchhistory Religious Museum
Cincinnati Art Museum @cincyartmuseum Art Museum
Cincinnati Museum Center @CincyMuseum History/ National History Museum/ Library and Archives
City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs @culture_la municipal arts agency
Clark County Historical Society at the Heritage Center @clarkcohistory Cabinet of curiosities/ Farm museum/ Heritage centre/ History/ Interpretation centre/ Local museum
Colonial Williamsburg @cwflearn History/ Living museum/ art
Columbus Museum of Art @columbusmuseum Art Museum
Computer History Museum @johnnyeponymous Computer museum/ Technology museum
Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis @ContemporarySTL Contemporary Museum
Corning Museum of Glass @corningmuseum Collection (artwork)/ Design museum/ History/ Science museum/ Technology museum
Craft Alliance Center of Art + Design @CraftAlliance Contemporary craft gallery
Crocker Art Museum @CrockerArt Collection (artwork)
Crow Collection of Asian Art @crow_collection  Collection (artwork)
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art @crystalbridges American Art
Cumberland County Historical Society @CCHSCarlislePA Children’s museum/ Farm museum/ History/ Local museum
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park @CumberlandGapNP  History
Currier Museum of Art @CurrierMuseum Collection (artwork)
deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum @deCordovaSPandM Collection (artwork)/ contemporary art
Delaware Water Gap NRA @delwatergapnps  Botanical/ Geology museum/ History/ Interpretation centre/ Local museum/ Natural History/ Native Americans
Detroit Institute of Arts @DIADetroit Collection (artwork)
Dinosaur Journey @DinosaurJourney Geology museum/ Natural History/ Science museum/ Paleontology
Discovery Place @discoveryplace Science museum
Dittrick Museum of Medical History @dittrickmuseum History/ Science museum/ University museum/ Medical
Dr Pepper Museum @drpeppermuseum soft drink museum
Drayton Hall @DraytonHall House Museum
Dumbarton House @dumbartonhouse History/ Local museum/ House Museum
Dunedin Historical Museum @Dunedin_Museum History
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum @IkeLibrary History
Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art/ Brooklyn Museum @feministart Collection (artwork)
El Museo del Barrio @elmuseo Latino Art
EMP Museum @empmuseum music/ sci-fi/ pop culture
En Foco/ Inc @enfoco Photography
Et al. @et_al_etc art gallery
Everhart Museum of Natural History @everhartmuseum General Museum/Science & Art
Field Museum @fieldmuseum National History Museum
Fort Osage NHL Fort Osage History/ Interpretation centre/ Military Museums
Fort Lauderdale Historical Society @FLLHistory History/ Local museum
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum @FDRLibrary History
Fraunces Tavern Museum @frauncestavern History
Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon @GWBooks Farm museum/ History/ Living museum/ Local museum/ Open-air museum/ Private museum
Freer and Sackler Galleries @FreerSackler Smithsonian’s museums of Asian art
Fruitlands Museum @fruitlands History
Georgia Museum of Art @gmoa University museum/ Art museum
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum @okeeffemuseum Collection (artwork)
Girls’ Club Collection @girlsclubfll Collection (artwork)
Glass Curtain Gallery at Columbia College Chicago @GlassCurtainCCC Collection (artwork)/ University museum/ Contemporary art
Gore Place @goreplace History
Great Plains Art Museum @UNLGreatPlains Collection (artwork)
Grey Towers National Historic Site @GREYTOWERS Collection (artwork)/ History
Griffin Museum of Photography @griffinmuseum Photography
Guggenheim Museum @Guggenheim Collection (artwork)
Hammer Museum @hammer_museum Collection (artwork)
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum @TrumanLibrary History
Harvard Art Museums @harvartmuseums Collection (artwork)
Heart Mountain Interpretive Center @heartmountainwy Heritage centre/ History/ Interpretation centre
Heinz History Center @historycenter History/ Local museum
High Point Museum @HighPointMuseum History/ Local museum
Historic Oakleigh House Museum @oakleighmansion History/ Local museum
History Center of Olmsted County @HCOC History/ Local museum
House of the Temple @MasonicMuseum History
Independence National Historical Park @IndependenceNHP  History/ Interpretation centre/ Military Museums/ National History Museum/ National museums
Indianapolis Museum of Art @Imamuseum Collection (artwork)
International Center of Photography @icphotog Photography museum
International Spy Museum @IntlSpyMuseum Spy Museum
International Quilt Study Center & Museum @quiltstudy Fashion museum/ quilt/ folk art
Intrepid Sea/ Air & Space Museum @IntrepidMuseum Aviation museum/ History/ Maritime museum/ Military Museums/ Museum ship
J. Paul Getty Museum @gettymuseum Collection (artwork)
Jenks Museum @jenksmuseum Cabinet of curiosities/ University museum/ natural history and anthropology
The Jewish Museum @TheJewishMuseum Collection (artwork)
Kalamazoo Valley Museum @kalamazoomuseum Children’s museum/ Collection (artwork)/ History/ Local museum/ Science center/ Science museum/ Technology museum/ University museum
Jimmy Carter Presidential Library @CarterLibrary History/ National museums/ Presidential Museum
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum @JFKLibrary History / National museums
Johnson County Museum of History @johnsoncomuseum Local museum
Los Angeles County Museum of Art @lacma Collection (artwork)
Lancaster Science Factory @lancscifactory Children’s museum/ Science museum
Library of Virginia @LibraryofVA Heritage centre/ History/ Local museum/ Library
Lindsay Museum and Gallery @LindsayMuseum History
Mabee Farm Historic Site @MabeeFarm Farm museum/ History/ Local museum
Masur Museum of Art @MasurMuseum Collection (artwork)
Mathers Museum of World Cultures @MathersMuseum University museum/ Ethnology/ Ethnography/ and Cultural History
Matheson History Museum @MathesonMuseum History
McLean County Museum of History @mchistorymuseum History/ Local museum
Michigan State University Museum @MSUMuseum University museum
Milwaukee Art Museum @MilwaukeeArt Collection (artwork)
Mingei International Museum @MingeiMuseum folk art/ craft and design
Minneapolis Institute of Arts @artsmia Collection (artwork)
Missouri History Museum @mohistorymuseum History
MIT Museum @MITMuseum Science museum/ Technology museum
Montana Historical Society @mthist History
Morbid Anatomy Museum @morbidanatomy Culture
Morris-Jumel Mansion @MorrisJumel History
Moshe Rynecki: Portrait of a Life in Art @Erynecki Collection (artwork)/ Online collection
Museum of American Finance @FinanceMuseum History
Museum of Art and Archaeology @muartandarch  Collection (artwork)/ University museum
Museum of the American Revolution @AmRevMuseum History
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago @mcachicago Contemporary Art Museum
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego @MCASD Collection (artwork)/ Contemporary Art
Museum of Craft and Design @SF_MCD Craft and Design
Museum of the Coastal Bend @mcb_tx History
Museum of Fine Arts/ Boston @mfaboston Collection (artwork)
Museum of Fine Arts/ Houston @mfah Collection (artwork)
Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) @MOHAI History
Museum of Indian Arts & Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology @NMM_IndianArts Ceramics museum/ History/ Local museum/ Prefectural museum/ Native American Indian museum
Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust @MJHnews History
Museum of Modern Art @MuseumModernArt Collection (artwork)/ Design museum/ modern and contemporary art
Museum of the Moving Image @MovingImageNYC History/ Technology museum/ Media museum
Museum of Photographic Arts @MOPASD Collection (artwork)/ Private museum/ Photography/ Film/ Lens-based Media
Nasher Museum of Art at Duke Univeristy @NasherMuseum Collection (artwork)/ University museum
Nasher Museum of Art at Duke Univeristy @toschoon Collection (artwork)/ University museum
National Academy Museum & School @NatlAcademy Collection (artwork)/ art
National Aquairum @NatlAquarium  Living museum/ Aquarium
National Archives @USNatArchives  History
National Atomic Testing Museum @atomictstmuseum History/ Science museum
National Gallery of Art @ngadc Art Museum
National Firearms Museum @nramuseums History/ Military Museums
National Museum of African Art @nmafa Collection (artwork)
National Museum of American History @amhistorymuseum History/ National History Museum/ National museums
National Museum of the American Indian @ContemporaryNDN Collection (artwork)/ National museums/ Native American
National Museum of the American Indian-Smithsonian Institution @nativecurator Collection (artwork)/ Native American museums
National Museum of Health and Medicine @medicalmuseum Military Medicine/History of Medicine
National Museum of the Marine Corps @MarineMuseum Military Museums
National Museum of the U.S. Air Force @AFmuseum Aviation museum
National Museum of Wildlife Art @wildlifeartjh Art Museum
National Museum of Women in the Arts @WomenInTheArts Art museum
National Postal Museum @PostalMuseum History/ National History Museum/ National museums/ Postal museum
National Portrait Gallery @NPG  History/ National museums/ Art/Portraiture
New Museum @newmuseum Art
New York Transit Museum @NYTransitMuseum History/ Local museum/ Transport museum
New Richland Museum of Natural History @NewRichlandMuse Botanical/ Cabinet of curiosities/ Geology museum/ History/ Local museum/ Natural History
Newport Historical Society @NewportHistory History
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences @NatSciLearn Natural History/ Science museum
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences @naturalsciences Natural History/ Science center
Ohio History Connection @ohiohistory History
Olana State Historic Site @OlanaSHS Historic house
Old State House Museum @ABostonianSoc History
Oregon Coast Aquarium @orcoastaquarium  Botanical/ Living museum/ Natural History/ Open-air museum/ Science center/ Science museum
Pabst Mansion @PabstMansion Historic House museum
PA Historical & Museum Commission @PHMC Collection (artwork)/ Farm museum/ History/ Natural History
Peabody Museum/ Harvard University @peabodymuseum  University museum/ Anthropology
Philadelphia Art Alliance @philartalliance Ceramics museum/ Design museum/ contemporary craft and design
Philadelphia Museum of Art @philamuseum Collection (artwork)
Phoenix Art Museum @Phoenix Art Museum Collection (artwork)/ Fashion museum/ Private museum
Portland Art Museum @PDXArtMuseum Collection (artwork)
Presidential Libraries and Museums of the National Archives and Records Administration @OurPresidents History
Provo Pioneer Village @PPioneerVillage
Puget Sound Navy Museum @PSNavyMuseum  Military Museums
Pulitzer Arts Foundation @PulitzerArts Visual art museum
Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology @alfmuseum Geology museum/ Science museum/ paleontology
Richard H. Driehaus Museum @DriehausMuseum  Collection (artwork)/ History
Riley County historical Society @RileyCountyHist Farm museum/ History/ Local museum/ Historic House Museum
Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art (RAFFMA) @CSUSBMuseum Museum of Art
Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites @NPS_HydePark Botanical/ Geology museum/ National museums/ Natural History
Rose Art Museum @RoseArtMuseum Collection (artwork)/ University museum
R.W. Norton Art Gallery @rwnortongallery Collection (artwork)
Saatchi Art @saatchiart Contemporary online art gallery
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site @SagamoreHillNHS  Collection (artwork)/ Design museum/ Green museum/ History
SAM – Seattle Art Museum /Asian Art Museum/ and Olympic Sculpture Park @iheartSAM Collection (artwork)/History/ Open-air museum/ Virtual museum
Sam Bell Maxey House State Historic Site @sbmaxeyhouse History/ Local museum/ Historic House Museum
San Diego Air & Space Museum @SDASM Aviation museum
San Diego Natural History Museum @SDNHM Natural History
San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles @SJMQT Fiber art
SFMOMA @SFMOMA Collection (artwork)
Santa Barbara Museum of Art @sbmuseart Collection (artwork)
Santa Monica Museum of Art @SMMoA Collection (artwork)
The Sarnoff Collection at The College of New Jersey @TCNJSarnoff Technology museum
Schenectady County Historical Society @SchdyCountyNY History
Sheldon Museum of Art @SheldonMuseum Art
Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center @SmithsonianAPA  Heritage centre/ History
Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden @hirshhorn  Collection (artwork)/ History/ Local museum/ literary museum
Smithsonian Institution Archives @SmithsonianARCH Archive
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum @airandspace Aviation museum/ History/ Spaceflight Museum
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture @NMAAHC History
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History/ Department of Anthropology @archaeologylab Natural History/ Anthropology
Sparks Heritage Museum @SparksMuseum  Heritage centre/ Local museum
Stafford Air and Space Museum @StaffordMuseum Aviation museum/ History/ Local museum/ Space Museum
State Museum of Pennsylvania @PHMC Collection (artwork)/ History
Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum @SEQuiltMuseum Textile Museum
Spafford House Museum @MuseumFrontDoor Local museum
Spencer Museum of Art @SpencerMuseum Collection (artwork)/ University museum
Springfield Armory National Historic Site @SPARNHS History/ Military Museums/ Firearm Museum
Syracuse University Art Galleries @SUArt University museum
Tenement Museum @tenementmuseum History/ Immigration
Telfair Museums @courtmcneil7 Art Museum
Territorial Statehouse State Park @utahstatehouse Local museum
The Andy Warhol Museum @TheWarholMuseum Collection (artwork)
The Autry @TheAutry Collection (artwork)/ History/ Western Art and History
The Barnum Museum @BarnumMuseum History
The Bostonian Society/Old State House @BostonianSoc History
The Broad @thebroad Collection (artwork)
The Center for Fine Art Photography @C4FAP Photographic Center
The Charleston Museum @ChasMuseum Children’s museum/ Fashion museum/ History/ Local museum/ Natural History
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis @TCMIndy Children’s museum/ History/ Natural History/ Science museum/ Toy museum
The Cleveland Museum of Art ClevelandArt History/ Local museum
The Durham Museum @DurhamCurator History
The Field Museum @fieldmuseum Natural History
The Henry Ford @thehenryford History
The Historic Ephrata Cloister @ephratacloister History/ Open-air museum
The MADE @themade Video Game Museum
The Mariners’ Museum @MarinersMuseum Maritime museum
The Metropolitan Museum of Art @metmuseum Collection (artwork)
The Mistake Room @themistakeroom Contemporary Art Space
The National WWII Museum @WWIIMuseum Aviation museum/ History/ Military Museums/ National museums
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art @nelson_atkins Collection (artwork)/ Art
The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass @TheNeustadt  Collection (artwork)
The New Children’s Museum @iheartncm Children’s museum
The Noguchi Museum @noguchimuseum Collection (artwork)/ Sculpture
The Octagon Museum @octagonmuseum History/ House Museum
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) @PAFAcademy Collection (artwork)
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza @SixthFlrMuseum History
The Texas Archive of the Moving Image @texasarchive Film and video archive
The Tech Museum of Innovation @thetechmuseum Technology museum
The Tech Museum of Innovation – Health and Biotech @bioforged Design museum/ Science center/ Technology museum/ Innovation
Thomas Edison National Historical Park @ThomasEdisonNHP History/ National museums/ Technology museum
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello @TeachMonticello History/ Historic house museum
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum @holocaustmuseum History/ National museums
University of Colorado Art Museum @cuartmuseum Collection (artwork)/ University museum
University of Iowa Museum of Natural History @IowaMNH Natural History/ Science museum/ University museum
University of Wisconsin Geology Museum @UWGeologyMuseum Geology museum/ University museum
U.S. House of Representatives @USHouseHistory History/ Government institution
Utah Museum of Fine Arts @UMFA  Collection (artwork)/ University museum
Vero Beach Museum of Art @verobeachmuseum Art Museum
Vermont Historical Society @vermonthistory History (Send q’s before Sept 16)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts @VMFA Collection (artwork)
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens @VizcayaMuseum Historic House Museum
Walker Art Center @walkerart Art Center (contemporary)
Westmoreland Museum of American Art @TheWestmoreland Art Museum
Whitney Museum of American Art @whitneymuseum Collection (artwork)
Winter Garden Heritage Foundation @WGHeritage Heritage centre/ History/ Local museum
Winterthur Museum/ Garden & LIbrary @WinterthurMuse Ceramics museum/ Collection (artwork)/ History/ Local museum/ decorative arts/ art conservation/ textiles/ ceramics/ furniture/ garden
Wilbur D. May Museum @RenoMayCenter Cabinet of curiosities/ Private museum
Witte Museum @WitteMuseum  Local museum/ Art Gallery
Worcester Art Museum @WorcesterArt Collection (artwork)
World Museum of Mining @ButteWMM Mining museum
York County Heritage Trust @yorkhistory History




About the Author:

Robin Van Auken, CEO of Hands on Heritage, is a writer and researcher, with 35+ years experience interviewing people and telling stories. Her educational background combines advanced degrees in Communications and Anthropology, with a focus on Public and Historical (Military/Industrial Sites) Archaeology. In addition to her work as a journalist, she is the author and co-author of a dozen books on regional history. An adjunct college instructor, she has directed multi-year historical and archaeological projects, working with hundreds of volunteers and temporary staff, and educating thousands of visitors.