Unlock the talent inside

Since 1962 the Koestler Awards have played a unique, national role in motivating prisoners, secure hospital patients and immigration detainees to take part in the arts. The Koestler Awards are simple and powerful – we reward achievement, build self-confidence and broaden horizons for some of society’s most disadvantaged and marginalised people.

Our work harnesses the uniquely transformative power of the arts to help individuals learn the skills and gain the confidence to live creative, positive and productive lives. Each year we receive more than 7,000 entries from over 3,500 entrants across the UK in 52 categories. More than 2,000 Awards are granted by over 100 esteemed judges, and each year culminates in a curated exhibition at Southbank Centre which showcases the incredible power of the arts to transform lives.

Read more about us

Soweto Kinch, curator of Another Me, 2019
A Feeling We All Share, Snape Maltings, 2019
A Feeling We All Share, Snape Maltings, 2019
We Made This, Turner Contemporary, 2019
We Made This, Turner Contemporary, 2019
Antony Gormley at Inside, 2017

Exhibitions


Each year Koestler Arts holds exhibitions and events across the UK. We do this to showcase the talent and potential of ex-offenders to the public – causing many people to reconsider negative stereotypes. Each exhibition covers the range of Koestler artforms and includes publications and events.

Very insightful to get into the minds of those society forgets about and neglects. Art is universal, this exhibition proves that.

Comment from exhibition visitor

Annual UK exhibition

The annual UK exhibition, in partnership with London’s Southbank Centre, includes entries to the year’s Koestler Awards from across the UK, and from British prisoners abroad. The programme includes talks, performances, exhibited artist family days, a pop-up shop and tours. In recent years, the UK exhibition has been presented to the public by ex-offender exhibition hosts, specially trained and recruited to lead tours and answer questions about the artwork and criminal justice system.

Each year we take a new approach to the curation, in order to bring new perspectives to the selection and interpretation of the work, and to enable different people to be in charge how of our entrants are represented. Curators are given the opportunity to choose work from all the Koestler artforms, irrespective of what was selected for Awards by the judging panels. This allows our curators to put their own stamp on the exhibitions, and it also recognises the subjective nature of judging artwork – meaning if an entrant doesn’t win an Award they may still be selected for exhibition. Past curators have included the artists Antony Gormley, Sarah Lucas and Grayson Perry, poet Benjamin Zephaniah, rapper Speech Debelle, victims of crime, serving female prisoners, prisoners’ families and graduates of our mentoring programmes.

Events produced as part of the UK exhibition include Voices from Prison, which features spoken word and poetry; excerpts of plays; discussions; seminars for arts educators working in criminal justice; shared reading sessions;  and musical performances.

Exhibition programmes across the UK

We hold exhibitions across the UK each year, involving local groups and artists to shape the content. These exhibitions allow more entrants’ families to see the artworks, and engage artists’ local communities.

Local exhibitions feature entries to the year’s Koestler Awards from the local area, and performances and talks by local artists. Each programme looks to open up new debate and perspectives on the work. Exhibition curators have included local youth offending teams, serving prisoners, secure children’s homes, artists (including Ruth Ewan, Bob & Roberta Smith) and people on probation. Exhibition programmes have been held in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Gateshead, Colchester, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Cardiff.

We work in partnership with host venues to create these ambitious programmes, and look for local and national funders to support their production.

Publications

As well as exhibition catalogues, every two years we produce an anthology of excellent poems entered into the Koestler Awards.

Koestler Voices: New Poetry from Prisons Vol 1 ,with a foreword by Benjamin Zephaniah, was published in 2017. Vol 2, with a foreword by George the Poet, will be published in Autumn 2019.