Groups of museum friends go back a long way. According to the World Federation of Friends of Museums (WFFM) the first such association was the Vorarlberger Landesmuseumverein of Austria, set up in 1857. Subsequently the Ballart Fine Arts Public Gallery Association of Australia was created in 1884, and the Koninklijke Maatschappij Woorhet Museum voor Schoone Kunst van Gent in Belgium followed in 1897. There was a tendency for the early organizations to be elitist whose members were art collectors and wealthy benefactors who achieved prestige from their affiliation.
After World War II two trends emerged. The general attitude towards museums changed with greater opportunities in education and with the formation of ICOM (International Council of Museums) and UNESCO. There was also a marked social change because women had been empowered as a result of their war experience, where they had served in the armed forces and had replaced men (mostly temporarily) in many job situations. The time was ripe for the formation of autonomous volunteer groups to become actively involved with museums aided by forward thinking curators. The movement grew, initially in Europe and North America, and has gradually spread throughout the world.
In Canada many such groups were formed, one of the earliest being the Women’s Committee of the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1945. Many Canadian groups of friends/volunteers are celebrating their 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries in this decade, a great story in how different groups of people from different backgrounds, but with a similar aim (can one say passion?), learned how to act together and change and adapt with the times.
As these groups of volunteer friends became more capable some of the more outward-looking members began thinking about the international museum community and they found a kindred spirit in the World Federation of Friends of Museums. Subsequent to the first congress in Barcelona in 1972, WFFM was formed, being legally constituted in 1975 as a non-profit, non-governmental organization to unite and support national associations and federations. The organization now has an association with the International Council of Museums (ICOM), and reports on its activities to the Executive Council. WFFM co-operates in many ways with UNESCO. Among other endeavours, WFFM provides a code of Ethics for Friends and Volunteers, help in starting up a new Friends’ Group and, most importantly, promotes the exchange of information amongst member associations. WFFM holds a business Council meeting each year, and hosts a triennial Conference located in a different country every time.
Two volunteers from the Art Gallery of Ontario led by Diana Goad attended the first WFFM congress in Barcelona and the Canadian Federation of Friends of Museums was subsequently formed in 1977 with Diana Goad elected as first President. To this day, CFFM maintains close ties with WFFM; the retiring Vice- President for North America, Dr Sean Murphy, is a Past President of CFFM and Danielle Lecours is the Associate Members’ Representative on the WFFM Council.
Since its formation CFFM has become a registered charity and has been under the patronage of four Governors General. CFFM exists on membership dues and donations, has agreed on a strategic alliance with the Canadian Museums Association, and holds its AGM wherever the CMA (founded 1947) annual conference is sited. CFFM has a double mandate of providing advocacy, particularly in conjunction with the CMA, on behalf of all museums and heritage sites and also providing support and advice to Friends groups. It is run by a volunteer board of advisors from across the country and communicates with its members through the quarterly newsletter, Au Courant.