Koestler Arts

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Koestler Arts logo.png
Named afterArthur Koestler
MottoUnlock the Talent Inside
Formation1962; 57 years ago (1962)
Registration no.1105759
HeadquartersKoestler Arts Centre
  • HMP Wormwood Scrubs
Key people
Sally Taylor, chief executive
David Ramsbotham, honorary president

Koestler Arts (formerly The Koestler Trust)[1] is a charity which helps ex-offenders, secure patients and detainees in the UK to express themselves creatively.[2] The organisation promotes the arts in prisons, secure hospitals, immigration centres and in the community, encouraging creativity and the acquisition of new skills as a means to rehabilitation. The Koestler awards were founded in 1962 and the organisation became a charitable trust in 1969 following a bequest from the British-Hungarian author, Arthur Koestler.[3]

Koestler's prison experience[edit]

Koestler had been detained in three jails in separate countries. In Spain, he was sentenced to death in 1936 for espionage under Francisco Franco's regime.[4] Here, he witnessed many executions, and was held in solitary confinement.[5] He was arrested in France a few years later and held in the Le Vernet Internment Camp for subversion.[4] Koestler was released and fled to England, where he was held at Pentonville as a suspected illegal immigrant.[4]

Creation of the Koestler Trust[edit]

Catching Dreams-254

His experiences in prison led him to write Darkness at Noon and newspaper articles campaigning for the abolition of capital punishment in the 1950s.[3] He also attempted to change the experience of incarceration, stating that in prison, "the main problem is apathy, depression and gradual dehumanisation. The spark dies."[6] Koestler spoke of being intellectually under-stimulated[6] and terrorized in prison,[5] and wanted to provide "an imaginative and exciting way to stimulate as far as possible and in as many cases as possible the mind and spirit of the prisoner."[3]

In 1962, Koestler arranged the Arthur Koestler Award through the Home Office of the United Kingdom, to award monetary prizes for artistic achievement to prisoners, detainees, and psychiatric patients and following a donation from Koestler became a charitable trust in 1969. Koestler gave a further bequest of £10,000 on his death.[6] The trust became Koestler Arts in 2019.[1]

Koestler Arts today[edit]

FREE, 2012 exhibition of entries to the Koestler Awards curated by Sarah Lucas

Today the Koestler Awards cover over 50 artforms, across music, writing, crafts, design, performance and fine art. Each category is judged by panels of experts from the art world. All entrants receive a certificate and written feedback on their work, and each category is judged by panels of experts from the art world, with prizes ranging from £25 to £100 (as of the 2018 awards).[7] In descending order, prize tiers are usually platinum, gold, silver and bronze, with a special youth award, first time participant, commended and highly commended awards also available.

An annual exhibition programme is curated separately and held at Southbank Centre. Recent curators of the UK exhibition include Grayson Perry,[8] Sarah Lucas, Anthony Gormley, Speech Debelle and Jeremy Deller as well as victims of crime, magistrates, women prisoners and ex-prisoners. In 2017, British sculptor Anthony Gormley said,[9]

The charity also holds locally-focused exhibitions - recent shows include Snail Porridge at Castlefield Gallery in Manchester (2014) curated by Bob and Roberta Smith, Release at Glasgow's Tramway (arts centre), curated by Kibble Secure Centre[10] and the first exhibition in the south east of England held at Turner Contemporary gallery and curated by ex-offenders themselves.[11] The charity has also held exhibitions as part of the annual Edinburgh Festival which involved work from people in Scottish prisons and secure units.[12]

Koestler Arts also runs mentoring programmes for people who wish to continue in the arts after release from prison or other secure settings.[13][14] Artwork by the prisoners and others is available for sale direct to the public through the trust's exhibitions, with proceeds split between the Artists (50%), Victim Support (25%) and the charity (25%). Individual donors and businesses may also sponsor an award within the Koestler judging categories.[15]

Koestler Arts is funded by grants from the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), as part of HM Prison and Probation Service, Arts Council England and donations from many private individuals, organisations and businesses.[16]

Koestler Arts annual national exhibition[edit]

Each year the charity holds an annual award exhibition at the Southbank Centre, London, for which a themed category is suggested for prisoners to submit art works during the preceding months. In recent years the themed category has also had an independent judge and award.[17] Submitted works are given a 'K number' for purposes of exhibition and sale, the location the artwork was submitted from is publicly displayed with any title or age category, but names are removed (although first names can be added on request). Not all submissions are available for sale depending on the preference of the artist.

For the 2018 exhibition around 220 art works were exhibited at the Southbank Centre show, which included art, sculpture, creative crafts, printmaking, written and spoken word, music and film.[7] Exhibition titles, curators and themes for recent years are listed below:

  • 2011: Art by Offenders, judged by Magistrates' Association, with guidance from Grayson Perry, Emma Bridgewater and Will Self[18][19]
    Theme was 'help!' and the theme category was judged by journalist Jeremy Paxman
  • 2012: Free, curated by artist Sarah Lucas.[20]
    Theme was '50', to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of Koestler Trust
  • 2013: The Strength and Vulnerability bunker, curated by rapper Speech Debelle.[21]
    Theme was 'forgiveness' and the theme category was judged by theatre director Jude Kelly
  • 2014: Catching Dreams, curated by previous Koestler award entrants.
    Theme was 'dreams' and the category awarded by Olympic athlete Katherine Grainger
  • 2015: Re:Form, curated by Southbank Centre and the Koestler Trust, including Jeremy Deller, Carol Ann Duffy, Speech Debelle and Hot Chip.[22]
    Theme was 'journey' and the theme category was voted by social media followers
  • 2016: We Are All Human, curated by poet Benjamin Zephaniah.[23]
    Theme was 'comfort' and the theme category was voted by social media followers
  • 2017: Inside, curated by sculptor Anthony Gormley.[23]
    Theme was 'inside' and the theme category was also judged by Gormley
  • 2018: I'm Still Here, curated by families who have a relative in prison[24]
    Theme was 'connections' and the theme category was judged by actor Reggie Yates

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Homepage". Koestler Arts. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  2. ^ "Charity Commission".
  3. ^ a b c "History of the Koestler Trust". Koestler Trust. Archived from the original on 1 February 2019. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  4. ^ a b c "Arthur Koestler 1905-1983". Koestler Trust. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  5. ^ a b Menand, Louis (21 December 2009). "Road Warrior: Arthur Koestler and his century". The New Yorker. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  6. ^ a b c Chesshyre, Robert (16 September 2006). "The Fine Art of Starting Over". The Observer. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  7. ^ a b "2018 Koestler Awards Results (PDF document)" (PDF). Koestler Trust. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
  8. ^ Bankes, Ariane. "The 'transvestite potter from Essex'". The Spectator. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  9. ^ "Anthony Gormley curates 'Inside' for Koestler Trust". The Arts Society. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  10. ^ "Koestler Trust Awards". koestlertrust.org.uk. Archived from the original on 1 February 2019.
  11. ^ "Koestler Trust Exhibition to be curated by ex-offenders". Turner Contemporary. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  12. ^ James, Erwin. "How a little praise in prison can go a long way". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 November 2014. Retrieved 11 November 2014.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)>
  14. ^ Cheliotis, Leonidas. "The Arts of Desistance: Evaluation of the Koestler Trust Arts Mentoring Programme for Former Prisoners". Arts Alliance. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
  15. ^ "Art Sales". Koestler Trust. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  16. ^ "How we're funded". Koestler Trust. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  17. ^ "MULTI-ARTFORM Themed Category". Koestler Trust. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  18. ^ Christiansen, Rupert. "Art by Offenders exhibition: Inmates happy to be framed". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  19. ^ "Koestler exhibition 2011". Shearman Bowen. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  20. ^ Brown, Mark. "Sarah Lucas unlocks prisoners' art". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  21. ^ Van Brugen, Sophie. "Art from 'Inside' goes on display". BBC News. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  22. ^ "KOESTLER TRUST'S NATIONAL EXHIBITION RE:FORM OPENS AT SOUTHBANK CENTRE" (PDF). Koestler Trust (press release). Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  23. ^ a b Bankes, Ariane. "Why we need to free art by prisoners from behind bars". Apollo Magazine. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  24. ^ "Exhibition Launch - I'm Still Here". Southbank Centre. Retrieved 31 January 2019..

External links[edit]