After five stormy years in charge, Eshun quits as head of the ICA

Director resigns to write book but was not forced out, says gallery

Ekow Eshun, the Institute of Contemporary Arts' beleaguered artistic director, today announced his resignation after a five-year tenure racked with financial and managerial strife.

Eshun, who came to the ICA in 2005, will leave the London gallery in March 2011, after which he plans to write a book. As well as serving as the gallery's artistic director, he had more recently been appointed its executive director.

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.

The venue had been struggling to make salary savings of £1m after it was badly hit by the recession and there has been internal criticism over how Mr Eshun handled the crisis.

The gallery released news of his resignation while Mr Eshun was on holiday and unable to be contacted. In a statement, Mr Eshun said he felt "very proud to have been part of the ICA and I will miss it hugely".

He added: "I've taken it through a period of real change. That's been tough but I was determined to see it through to a positive outcome. I've been lucky to work with a tremendously dedicated staff here and through their hard work the ICA is now in a much strengthened position as an organisation ... It feels like the right moment to move on and I'm really excited by the projects that lie ahead for me. I am very grateful for the support of Alan Yentob and the ICA Council and I will always be one of the ICA's most passionate ambassadors."

An official statement from the gallery said: "The [resignation] announcement comes at the end of a thorough organisational review, led by Eshun, which has now placed the institute in a much strengthened position following a period of considerable financial pressure. With a strong autumn programme in place and a new five-year business plan delivered, Eshun feels it is the right time to announce his intention to move on."

The ICA had received a special £1.2m grant from the Arts Council to help it ride out the recent economic storm, but staff expressed anger over redundancies used to make the savings, earlier this year. In February, they took an electronic vote of confidence in Mr Eshun, although they decided not to count the results at a later union meeting. The episode nevertheless suggested some of the staff had little faith in senior management.

Mark Sladen, the gallery's director of exhibitions also left the gallery after clashing with Alan Yentob, the ICA's chair and creative director for the BBC. As part of the restructuring process, Mr Sladen had been asked to reapply for the expanded position of director of programmes, but he reportedly told Mr Yentob he would only continue working for the ICA if Mr Eshun resigned.

A new chair will also be appointed this autumn.

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