London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, recently the hub for many brilliant and much-praised ComICA events, could close later this year due to funding cuts.
The Guardian reports the ICA, founded in 1947, could fall victim to recession with costs needing a £1m trim.
Staff members have been told that a financial deficit currently at around £600,000 might rise to £1.2m and if radical steps are not taken the ICA could be closed by May.
If the ICA closes it could be bad news for the growing raised profile of comics in the UK thanks to events organised there and Round London by Paul Gravett and the ComICA team. While comics events and activity in the UK are far from limited to London, it’s an indisputable fact that London comics happenings are those most likely to attract the attention of the mainstream media, coverage which in turn helps boost the British comics industry nationally.
“This is bad news for the arts and ComICA too if it happens,” commented one leading British comics commentator. “This recession is screwing everyone but bank directors.”
The closure fears come after the Guardian had sight of the minutes of a sometimes bad-tempered staff meeting held last month, attended by Alan Yentob, the BBC creative director, and Tessa Ross, Channel 4’s head of film and drama, both of whom sit on the ICA’s council.
The meeting saw ICA director Ekow Eshun explain that a staff bill of £2.5m will have to be reduced by £1m for the organisation to survive. Without a wholesale restructuring, he argued, the ICA could be the first major British cultural organisation to fall victim to the recession.
The total turnover of the ICA is £4.5m, and it receives an annual ACE grant of £1.3m; recent fund raising initiatives have not been as successf as hoped, including hiring out the venue for commercial purposes.
Yentob told the Guardian: “We’ve been managing a programme with a large staff running numerous individual projects. When trouble emerged and financial problems surfaced because of the recession it was as if we had been ambushed from every side.”
The ICA’s management is now consulting on staff redundancies, with the process due to be completed by the end of March.
Ekow Eshun, who has been director of the ICA since 2005, said that he did take “responsibility for the ICA’s present and future over the time that I’ve been here. But it has been going for 60 years. Trying to turn it round isn’t straightforward.”
Eshun’s rein as director has not met with universal approval. “Talking to different staffers I got the impression there was disappointment that Mr Eshun was never around and didn’t attend many events,” one ICA-goer told downthetubes. It’s difficult to know how committed he is and I think it’s time someone else took over. Last year they closed the Performance Department. Tate Modern may have stolen the ICA’s thunder to some extent but that is no excuse for a lack of new ideas with all those talented, artistic people.”