Controversy dogs closure of Hepburn museum
by Richard Dawson, swissinfo, Nov. 8, 2002
A Swiss museum dedicated to the memory of Audrey Hepburn has closed amid controversy after the film star’s two sons emptied nearly all its exhibits.
Since it opened in a small village near Lausanne six years ago, the Audrey Hepburn Pavilion had received almost 30,000 visitors from all over the world.
The museum was located in a two-room former schoolhouse in Tolochenaz, where Hepburn lived for 30 years until her death in 1993.
Staffed entirely by volunteers, the museum raised nearly SFr400,000 ($276,000) for children’s charities.
But the actress’s two sons, Sean Ferrer and Luca Dotti, who run the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, asked for the return of the exhibits, pointing out that it was agreed from the start that they were on loan to the museum for five years.
In an interview with Time magazine, Los Angeles-based Ferrer complained about the “over-commercialisation of the site”, with tourists trekking from his mother’s grave in the village to the museum.
He also objected to the sale by the museum of, among other things, homemade jam named after Audrey Hepburn.
“The whole thing got out of hand,” he was quoted as saying. “This is my mother’s resting place, not [Elvis Presley’s] Graceland.”
Ferrer’s comments did not go down well in the village where the film star and UNICEF campaigner was a popular and highly respected resident.
Museum director Franca Price told swissinfo: “I’m not really sure how to reply to the commercialisation bit. People paid an entry fee as agreed by everyone involved, including Audrey’s sons.”
She added that everything that was sold in the modestly-sized shop, including the postcards, had been approved beforehand by Ferrer and Dotti.
The local authority provided the building free of charge and paid for heating and electricity, while the museum met the cost of insurance and security from the proceeds of entry fees and souvenir sales.
“The entire balance, after running costs were paid, went to a variety of charities selected on the basis of urgency and on condition that the organisations had small infrastructures and were economically-run,” said Price.
A tour of the exhibition began with memorabilia from Hepburn’s film career. This included her 1953 Oscar for “Roman Holiday”, posters, photographs and costumes. The second room contained photographs taken of the actress with children during visits to deprived regions as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.
The visitor’s book bears testimony to the museum’s effect on visitors. Typical comments include such words as beauty, grace, serenity and the phrase “a wonderful woman”.
The pavilion also created a strong community spirit in Tolochenaz, chosen by Hepburn for a home because of its simplicity and peace.
“We’re very proud of what’s been done because it was a joint effort involving volunteers, the commune and local sponsors,” said Price.
“Of course the visitors were also sponsors because every time one paid the entry fee, he or she became the supporter of a needy child. It was very heart-warming.”