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Museum Friends group disbanded in city row; Support organisation ordered out of HQ EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: BY DAVID BARTLETT Daily Post Staff

A GROUP set up to give financial support and arrange volunteering in Liverpool's museums and galleries has effectively been disbanded, the Daily Post can reveal.

National Museums Liverpool (NML) have ordered the Friends of National Museums Liverpool (FNML) out of their headquarters at the Albert Dock.

The 1,700-strong membership of FNML, run by an external group of volunteers, have also had their privileges, such as advance viewings of new exhibitions, withdrawn. Instead, NML has set up a new membership scheme that will be run by the institution itself.

At the heart of the matter is an ongoing disagreement between the FNML and NML about the way the museums are being run, and specifically the focus of the International Slavery Museum.

The row, which has now turned public, will come as a further blow following a number of highprofile set backs to the institution.

It is currently facing the prospect of legal action from sacked Danish architects 3XN over the new Museum of Liverpool at Mann Island.

In January, key patron and renowned solicitor Rex Makin described the organisation as in "crisis", a charge denied at the time by NML.

And, in March, chairman of the board of trustees Loyd Grossman resigned, just three years into his tenure.

The Daily Post can also reveal deep unease among elements of the 550-strong staff of NML.

A two-page anonymous letter from a member of staff spells out how "the institution I have loved and cherished is being eroded . . ." and that "ill-conceived and little thought out ideas" are being "pushed through".

Last night, FNML chairman Andrew Pearce said he was angry and disappointed that, just because the group took different views to those of the NML, it had to be done away with.

NML's director of communications, Amy de Joia, said that, for a considerable time, the chairman and the board of trustees of FNML had been "unsupportive" of the work of NML and pursued its own agendas.

A new membership scheme, no longer linked with FNML, has been set up by NML.

FNML was formed in 2003 from the Friends of the Merseyside Maritime Museum and Friends of National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, following the merger of the respective institutions into NML.

Mr Pearce said the organisation, which traces its roots to the 1970s, had given more than pounds 800,000 in grants to NML to purchase artefacts and items. On top of this, NML has also received hundreds of thousands of hours in unpaid volunteer time (often in skilled restoration work) over the years, he said.

It has a membership of about 1,700, and primarily raises its money from subscriptions and legacies.

Last night, Mr Pearce said: "We will be made to disband because we have nothing to do. Forty years of excellent work will have been destroyed.

"NML will be the loser, culture in Liverpool will be the loser."

He said he had received a number of letters from members "aghast" at what was happening.

In January, NML director Dr David Fleming wrote to Mr Pearce to express "disappointment" that FNML had failed to give a grant for the International Slavery Museum, which had been requested.

Mr Pearce said that, when the committee discussed the grant, it had also agreed to pledge pounds 65,000 for items in the new Museum of Liverpool.

He said the group had not ruled out giving money to the slavery museum but thought it was not a "balanced" exhibition.

The museum does not celebrate the contribution of Liverpool to the abolitionist movement, particularly that of the city's former MP William Roscoe, he added.

Mr Pearce also argues that NML has shifted its emphasis too far away from displaying artefacts and collections, in favour of "telling stories".

He hit out at the way exhibitions and museums were being dumbed down in a way that was "patronising to the average Scouser".

"How far do we need to go along the line of bums on seats before it becomes Disneyland?"

In March, he was sent a letter from Ms de Joia setting out why the institution was removing privileges and serving notice on FNM occupation of Mermaid House.

Ms de Joia states the "overt lack of support from FNML has, in our opinion, been inexcusable".

". . . it is clear to us that there has now been a fundamental breakdown in the relationship between NML and the FNML committee."

In a statement released last night, Ms de Joia added: "In the interests of the museum service and the wider public, NML has set up a new membership scheme that will no longer be linked to FNML.

"For a considerable time, the FNML chairman and committee have been unsupportive of the work of National Museums Liverpool and have instead pursued agendas of individual committee members which were in conflict with the aims of the museum service.

"In particular, the FNML committee refused to support key developments such as the acclaimed International Slavery Museum "National Museums Liverpool values deeply the work of individual Friends, and we hope that they become founder members of our new scheme."

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Merseyside Maritime Museum, home of the Slavery Museum Picture: EDDIE BARFORD/ eb270408cmuseum-1; Mermaid House at Albert Dock, home of the Friends of Merseyside Maritime Museum; Dr David Fleming
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 28, 2008
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