Ekow Eshun, Executive Director and Alan Yentob Chairman of the troubled ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art, London) will be standing down. The announcement comes as the ICA struggles to remain a financially viable institution in an environment devastated by government cuts to the arts. There has been no official explanation of the development, other than a press release posted late yesterday, stating that it was time for them to move on, now that the ICA’s future was stable. Yentob has claimed only to have hung on in there to support his director. Many still feel that the pair were responsible for the institution’s crisis, and that their parting has dragged on and on despite public pressure, including ArtLyst’s Save ICA campaign, a facebook pressure group which has nearly 3000 supporters. Hundreds have called for the resignation of the pair over the past few months. Last night, an ICA spokeswoman said Mr Eshun had not been pushed to resign, in spite of reports that his position had caused managerial friction in recent times. His departure comes only five months after a bitter staffing crisis, when employees took a confidence vote in its director.
Eshun has led the ICA since 2005 and will leave in March 2011; he then plans to write a book. Eshun has not only served as the gallery’s Artistic Director, but had more recently been appointed its Executive Director. It is noted that attendance figures rose by 38% from 350,000 to 470,000 under his guidance and two emerging artists shown in ICA galleries, Enrico David and Mark Leckey, have gone on to be nominated for the Turner prize. Critics believe that some financial decisions, including an over-reliance on short-term sponsors, had a part to play. The Arts Council fortunately stepped in with £1.2million from its emergency Sustain Fund, but a condition of the grant was that a consultant would look closely at the way the organisation worked. In December staff were told that the £2.5m salary budget had to be cut by £1m, jobs would have to go and programming would be drastically reduced. In January staff were told that if steps were not taken to reduce the deficit, the ICA might have to close by May. In February Mark Sladen, the ICA’s Director of Exhibitions, refused to take on a new role as Director of Programmes unless Eshun resigned: Eshun did not and Sladen left. Since then the organisation has gone through an accelerated period of restructuring: jobs have been lost, contracts negotiated, financial reporting systems redesigned and a new business plan written. The problems surfaced last October when Managing Director Guy Perricone resigned, leaving the ICA in £750,000 debt.The finger can not be pointed at one person in this case. It is a whole group of managers and executives with an unworkable business plan and too many overpaid curators that seems to have been the problem.