The 1990s at the CMA: 1990 — 1999
The 1990s saw a continued cycle of repression in the Canadian museum landscape. The CMA had to face cut after cut to its funding, as did individual museums. The Museums Assistance Program was to suffer a 38% cut for the 1995/6 fiscal year — to its lowest level of funding on record to that point. For the first time in history, museums became painfully aware of their status as a business and the age-old dilemma of art and economics emerged with unprecedented urgency. CMA members used their magazine to dialogue about possible resolutions covering the widest range of options imaginable from "museums as theme parks" to "temples of knowledge." The question on tips of tongues was whether museums would maintain their status as producers of knowledge, or if they had become simply disseminators, more in keeping with the information society.
In the face of record layoffs, mounting deficits, fewer exhibitions and in several cases, permanent closure, the CMA began to offer insurance group plans, group discount ad rates, a mail-order catalogue, professional seminars and bursaries. Sadly, the waiving of membership fees for those members who lost their jobs due to cutbacks became a reality.
"Advocacy Alerts" also began in the 1990s, to let members know when there was an opportunity to speak out for museums: "We want to give the good and bad news, the moment it breaks," said John McAvity.
In 1996, reminiscent of 1982/3, there was again another great turnover in the directorship of Canadian museums. The number of departures from prominent managerial roles was far higher than normal; being a director was a very tough job in the new economic reality, and became primarily about economic development instead of new programs, research opportunities and new acquisitions.
The CMA managed to remain optimistic in such dour times. In 1997, the year that the CMA turned 50, new strategic alliances were formed as a way to create a stronger voice coming from the cultural sector. The CMA joined forces with Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA), the Canadian Federation of Friends of Museums (CFFM) and the Canadian Council of Science Centres (CCSC). The CMA also built administrative partnerships with ICOM-Canada, and the Canadian Art Museums Directors Organization (CAMDO).
These alliances allowed the CMA a stronger voice in advocacy, and an opportunity to speak in concert with related national organizations and respond to the new globalized economy. Seen as a way to mobilize people with specialized knowledge and expertise, they became a forum for networking, information sharing and peer support.