Conservator Kaiatawhai Whakaora Taonga

Conservators help preserve art and other important historical items by preventing deterioration and repairing damage.

Conservators may do some or all of the following:

  • research the history of artworks and items such as ngā taonga tūturu (old Māori objects)
  • analyse and test items to determine what they are made of, their condition, and how authentic they are
  • consult curators, owners and iwi about how to treat items
  • repair and preserve items using physical and chemical treatments
  • document items' conditions and any conservation work done
  • advise other staff or collectors on preserving, storing, displaying and transporting items
  • keep up to date with new developments in conservation.

Physical Requirements

Conservators need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses), good colour vision and good hearing (if they are working with sound recordings). They also need a good level of fitness and strength, as their work may involve lifting heavy objects. 

Useful Experience

Useful experience for conservators includes:

  • creating art or making craft items
  • volunteering or working in museums, art galleries or libraries
  • conservation technician work
  • experience relevant to their speciality, such as photography for photographic conservators.

Personal Qualities

Conservators need to be:

  • patient and detail-oriented
  • methodical and organised
  • accurate and careful, with good judgement as much of their work involves handling irreplaceable items
  • passionate about their work and the art or items they're responsible for
  • good researchers, with analytical skills
  • good writers and communicators
  • skilled in solving problems and negotiating.


Conservators need to have an understanding of:

  • different approaches to the conservation of objects
  • conservation principles and ethics
  • the chemistry of materials and how to use chemicals safely
  • ngā taonga Māori (treasured Māori items).

Conservators also need to have specialist knowledge in their area of interest, and a commitment to ongoing education.



  • usually work regular business hours, but may sometimes work longer hours to meet deadlines
  • work in private studios and labs at museums and galleries
  • work in conditions that may be hazardous, as they work with poisonous chemicals
  • may travel to visit marae and private collectors
  • may travel internationally to accompany art works being exhibited around the world.

Subject Recommendations

A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include English, chemistry, history of arts, history and classical studies, te reo Māori, processing technologies, and painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking combined.

Conservators can earn around $55K-$70K per year.

Pay for conservators varies depending on experience, the type of organisation they work for, and whether they work full time.

  • Full-time conservators usually start on $55,000 a year.
  • With five years' experience, they usually earn $55,000 to $70,000.
  • Those with 10 or more years' experience may earn $70,000 to $82,000.

A third of conservators are self-employed and their income depends on the success of their business.

Source: Museums Aotearoa, 2018.

Conservators may progress to set up their own conservation business, or move into management, sole-charge positions or consulting. 

Conservators can specialise in working with:

  • paintings
  • paper and books
  • sculptures and objects
  • ngā taonga tūturu (old Māori objects)
  • photographs and digital media
  • textiles
  • buildings
  • time-based media (backup, duplication and conservation of digital files and materials).

Years Of Training

5 years of training usually required.

To become a conservator you need a tertiary qualification in conservation (only available overseas). Employers increasingly prefer candidates with a Master of Arts in conservation.

To enter postgraduate training, you need an undergraduate degree in a subject such as:

  • cultural heritage studies
  • archaeology
  • art
  • anthropology
  • organic chemistry
  • science
  • fine arts
  • art history.

Specific conservation qualifications only available overseas

The closest conservation qualifications are offered in Australia – a Bachelor's degree at the University of Canberra and a Master's degree at the University of Melbourne.

Other overseas universities also offer conservation qualifications.