The 1980s at the CMA: 1980 — 1989
The 1960s and 1970s were marked mostly by prosperity in Canada's museums, but a new age was ushered in with the 1980s — government cut backs. In 1982-3, for various reasons, over half of the directors of the major museums in Canada left their positions. And while an optimistic hope percolated — that fresh faces would also bring fresh ideas and healthy change — the CMA also faced the prospect of being the voice of continuity in a time of rapid change.
Muse Magazine began its run in 1983, replacing the Gazette. This latest incarnation of the CMA's national publication made issues its top priority, and worked to establish a dialogue within the museums community. The magazine began publishing a regular feature entitled, simply, Conversation. One notable such tête-à-tête was to be had between CMA staff and Gérard Pelletier to discuss the nuances of the National Museums Policy and his thoughts about the Applebaum-Hébert Report. Another notable Conversation was had with Canadian culture minister Flora MacDonald.
Around the same time, the CMA shifted more of its attention to advocacy, and more than ever before became the countrywide voice for the advancement of museums and museum professionals. In 1983, John McAvity, CMA's executive director, wrote: "The era of growth and expansion of the last two decades is clearly over and today we face the realities of a new era — cutbacks in grants and donations, mounting museums deficits, reductions of programmes and the shelving of very deserving plans. It is ironic that these are happening without any apparent reduction in our attendance."
All of the fiscal cutbacks gave rise to a renewed dialogue on the marketing of museums. On one hand, many heralded marketing as a way to look to consumers as a source of much-needed funds, while for others, marketing carried a negative cachet — associated with outright manipulation, exploitation and hucksterism. Entire issues of Muse were dedicated to exploring if and how marketing and museums could fit together.
McAvity also placed a high priority on the role of communications in the CMA. "In a country as large as Canada and with a profession as small as ours, an effective communications system is essential to unite us, for the sharing of news and ideas and for the advancement of our community."
Theme issues were introduced in the mid-1980s and eventually became the norm. In the summer issue of Muse in 1988, for example, the hot topic of discussion was Bill C-54: eroticism versus pornography. Numerous articles were submitted exploring this tenuous issue, and its potential influence on museums and art galleries in Canada: "the debates about Bill C-54 have tended to polarize people into either the pro-censorship or anti-censorship camp," wrote Miriam Clavir, a conservator at the UBC Museums of Anthropology. "If the bill becomes law museums/galleries will be faced with displaying work of art behind warnings or opaque wrappers, and artists will face guidelines of what is or is not appropriate to create."