An internal memo from a bad-tempered board meeting seen by the newspaper reveals that the ICA is £600,000 in the hole, a figure that could double within months unless “drastic measures” are taken; those measures include grinding down a wage bill that currently tops out at £2.5 million to £1 million. Consultations with staff over redudancy packages are underway.
Since turning 60 in 2008, the ICA has tried a number of tricks to pull in additional revenue. Two years ago it dropped the £3 entry fee to encourage more people into the bar and cafe, hosted an auction of gewgaws from the likes of Damien Hirst and the Chapman brothers, and last year pocketed a sum of money from the Arts Council to help during the recession. But what director Ekow Eshun described as a “perfect storm” of fiscal maladies has nudged the Institute perilously close to the edge.
Aside from dispensing with staff, the ICA plans to “deliver a more integrated programme” to help rectify matters. Whether it will be able to retain good will among employees and visitors is another matter: under Eshun, director since 2005, the Institute has become a less visible presence on London’s art scene.
The Becks’ Futures contemporary art prize, one of its most recognisable events, was scrapped in 2007, and the once-vital film programming at times looks wilfully obscurant. Eshun talks a lot about his plans for the ICA, but as one person at the board meeting said: “[I don’t] want to hear the word ‘vision’ coming from Ekow Eshun again”.