An update from Koestler Arts in response to the impact of Covid-19

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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.

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  • Koestler Awards

  • Koestler Awards

  • Koestler Awards

  • Koestler Awards

  • Koestler Awards

Favelas, HM Prison Wakefield, Commended Award for Digital Art
Grayson Perry judging painting at the Koestler Arts Centre
Grace Helmer judging Graphic Novels at the Koestler Arts Centre
Hot Chip judging Computer Generated Music at the Koestler Arts Centre
Reggie Yates judging the Themed category at the Koestler Arts Centre

Koestler Awards

The Koestler Awards for arts in criminal justice started in 1962. Each year over 3,500 people in custody and in the community share their creative work by taking part. The Koestler Awards provide feedback and encouragement to entrants of all abilities in visual art, design, writing and music.


We give over 2,000 Koestler Awards each year. Every entrant gets a certificate and many winners receive a cash prize. The total prize money is over £30,000.

Prestigious judges

Entries are judged by over 100 experts from different fields. Previous judges have included Louis Theroux, Reggie Yates, Grayson Perry, Hot Chip, Emma Bridgewater and Jeremy Deller. Read the full list.


Entrants receive feedback on their work from the judges or the Koestler Arts team, who give their responses to the work and ideas on how to develop it.

Our entrants tell us that feedback is one of the most rewarding things about entering the Awards.

Feedback from experienced artists/writers is valuable because it’s genuine, practical and focused. It’s not sugar-coated or a platitude. In many ways, it’s the best thing about the scheme.

Koestler Awards Entrant

Find out more about feedback.

Extra encouragement for new entrants

Entrants who are taking part in the Koestler Awards for the first time are considered for Awards specially reserved for new entrants.

Fast feedback for under 18s

All entrants under 18 can receive their certificate and feedback within 4 weeks of entry, and enter at any point of the year. The parcel containing the entry must be marked ‘Under 18s Fast Feedback Programme’ to be eligible. Find out more about Fast Feedback.


Throughout the year we try to sell visual arts and crafts on behalf of Koestler Awards entrants. We do this online, through our Pop-Up Shop, in our building and at our exhibitions. View artworks currently for sale in our online shop.

Exhibitions and events

We show a selection of entries to the public at our annual UK exhibition at Southbank Centre. The exhibition attracts c.20,000 visitors each year and features events, performances and tours. We also showcase local artwork in different areas of the UK each year to give work in those areas an extra chance to be seen by the public. Find out more about exhibitions and events.

Membership scheme

The Associates Programme is a membership scheme for our entrants. Entrants opting into the scheme will benefit from greater contact with Koestler Arts through a regular Koestler newsletter. Find out more about Koestler Associates.


We run an arts mentoring scheme for entrants to the Koestler Awards who want to develop their work further. Find out more about Koestler Arts Mentoring.


Find answers to the most frequent questions about entering the Koestler Awards.