The Museum Preparator
By Jim Prohaska, Exhibits Preparator~
Preparator – a word made up by museum professionals many years ago, that is widely accepted as a job title by most institutions world-wide. The word Preparator was not defined in most dictionaries until just recently. If you type it into a Word document, spell check will immediately think it is an error and change it to “preparatory.” A Google search is your best bet to find information on this little known and mostly unheard of occupation.
The Museum Preparator is a multifaceted, multi-skilled occupation. The job of a Preparator is rarely the same on a daily basis. One that performs this job must wear many hats, think outside the box to be able to multi-task many projects at once, and be able to switch directions or change gears at a moment’s notice.
Preparators are responsible for the installation and de-installation of museum exhibitions, which usually includes the deconstruction and construction of walls, packing objects to be shipped to a new location, unpacking of incoming objects, and arranging for a new installation.
Outside of these basic duties, many Preparators’ responsibilities include: the production and layout of graphic elements and signage, designing and constructing shipping crates, casework and exhibition furniture, design and fabrication of specialized mounts for uniquely shaped objects/artworks, the installation and troubleshooting of technical issues for audio/visual, and mixed media exhibitions. There are always a variety of issues that arise that a Preparator must be “prepared” to handle on a daily basis.
The majority of Preparators come from an art background and learn the position on the job, developing skills as they go. It is wise, though, for anybody opting to choose this professional path to become familiar with a broad range of skills, especially those from the construction trades. It is not uncommon for a Preparator to be called on to utilize their carpentry, electrical, audio/video installation, and welding/brazing skills to make mounts for the display of small to very large scale pieces.
Most of the Preparator’s work is done behind-the-scenes and often after hours in closed gallery spaces, back room workshops, and storage facilities. It should come as no surprise that many people outside of Museum Professionals know little or nothing about this interesting, exciting, and multifaceted occupation.
A good place to start if you are interested in learning more about this occupation and what a Preparator does is the Preparation, Art Handling, Collections Care Information Network. Visit the PACCIN website at www.paccin.org.