Koestler Trust

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FREE, 2012 exhibition of entries to the Koestler Awards curated by Sarah Lucas
Catching Dreams-254

The Koestler Trust or award scheme, is a charity (Registered charity number 1105759 [1]) which helps ex-offenders, secure patients and detainees in the UK to express themselves creatively. The trust 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. It was founded in 1962, by a bequest by the British-Hungarian author, Arthur Koestler.[2]

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.[3] Here, he witnessed many executions, and was held in solitary confinement.[4] He was arrested in France a few years later and held in the Le Vernet Internment Camp for subversion.[3] Koestler was released and fled to England, where he was held at Pentonville as a suspected illegal immigrant.[3]

Creation of the Koestler Trust[edit]

His experiences in prison led him to write Darkness at Noon and newspaper articles campaigning for the abolition of capital punishment in the 1950s.[2] 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."[5] Koestler spoke of being intellectually under-stimulated[5] and terrorized in prison,[4] and wanted to provide "an imaginative and exciting way to stimulate as far as possible and in many cases as possible the mind and spirit of the prisoner."[2]

In 1962, Koestler arranged the Arthur Koestler Award (now Koestler Trust) through the Home Office of the United Kingdom, to award monetary prizes for artistic achievement to prisoners, detainees, and psychiatric patients.[5]

The Koestler Trust Today[edit]

Today the Koestler Awards cover over 61 artforms, across music, writing, crafts, design, performance and fine art. Each category is judged by panels of experts, including Grayson Perry, Jeremy Deller, V&A, National Theatre, Speech Debelle and Hot Chip (2014 UK Awards). An annual exhibition programme is curated separately and held at Southbank Centre. Recent curators of the UK exhibition include Grayson Perry, Sarah Lucas, Speech Debelle, Victims of Crime, Magistrates, women prisoners and ex-prisoners. The charity also holds locally-focused exhibitions - recent shows include Snail Porridge at Castlefield Gallery in Manchester (2014) curated by Bob and Roberta Smith, and Release at Glasgow's Tramway, curated by Kibble Secure Centre.[6]

The Trust also runs mentoring programmes for people who wish to continue in the arts after release from prison or other secure settings.[7][8] The prizes were initially paid by Koestler himself, but the award was reorganized into a charitable trust in 1969, as more sources of funding became necessary.[2] Today, prisoner's artwork is available for sale direct to the public through the trust's exhibitions. Artists receive 50% of proceeds, 25% goes to Victim Support and 25% to the Trust.[9][10]


  1. ^ "Charity Commission". 
  2. ^ a b c d "History of the Koestler Trust". Koestler Trust. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c "Arthur Koestler 1905-1983". Koestler Trust. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Menand, Louis (21 December 2009). "Road Warrior: Arthur Koestler and his century". The New Yorker. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c Chesshyre, Robert (16 September 2006). "The Fine Art of Starting Over". The Observer. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  6. ^ "Koestler Trust Awards". koestlertrust.org.uk. 
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-07. Retrieved 2014-11-11. >
  8. ^ "Artforms". Koestler Trust. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  9. ^ "Koestler Trust Art for sale". koestlertrust.org.uk. 
  10. ^ "Art Sales". Koestler Trust. Retrieved 9 March 2013.