Bengi Ünsal has been announced as the next director of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), becoming the first woman to helm the museum in fifty-five years. She is the first director appointed since Wolfgang Tillmans assumed chairmanship of the institution’s board in 2019. At the ICA, which is approaching its seventy-fifth anniversary, she will expand the museum’s film and live-performance offerings as well as its nighttime programming and digital arts program, which grew exponentially as the Covid-19 pandemic surged.
“My colleagues and I are enormously excited that Bengi has agreed to join us at this crucial moment in the ICA’s history,” said Tillmans in a statement. “Bengi has already started developing and sharing her ideas and plans on how she will shape a program across all art forms and all areas of our building, taking the organization back to its multidisciplinary heyday with a program rooted firmly in the here and now. I can’t wait to see what she brings to the ICA.”
Ünsal comes to the ICA from London’s Southbank Centre, where she had worked since 2016. While there, she oversaw performance programming and organized the annual Meltdown festival. Prior to her role at Southbank, she was artistic and managing director of Istanbul’s Salon IKSV, where she raised 100 percent of the performance and art venues funding via brand partnerships, sponsorships, and ticket sales. Before that, she was managing director of Istanbul’s Doublemoon Records and worked for various radio stations, record labels, and music channels.
‘We are living through a time that is challenging everything we know about work, life, the world, our connectivity,” noted Ünsal in a statement. “In a time of such questioning, it is vital that the space for culture, art, and expression is safeguarded to help us make sense of it all. We need our cultural institutions to be the platforms which allow artists to do just that. Artists of today are genre-fluid and connected, their expression limited only by their imaginations. The ICA, with the diversity of its spaces and specialists, can become a home for these artists to create and inspire; a space where our rapidly evolving communities are more truthfully represented and welcomed; a hub for creative encounters.”
Ünsal replaces Stefan Kalmár, who departed as director of the ICA in August 2021 after a five-year stint capped by the Covid-19 crisis, which forced the museum, like many around the globe, to shutter for months. Kalmár cast his decision to leave as “deeply personal and professional.”