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

  • 2020 Koestler Awards

Woman with Green Dreads, HMP Peterborough, Portrait, 2019

2020 Koestler Awards

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

    UPDATED 21 MAY 2020

    The priority for Koestler Arts, at this challenging time, whilst ensuring that the Koestler Awards 2020 go ahead, is looking after our community.

    Following government and NHS advice, our staff and volunteers have been working remotely from home since mid-March to help protect those around us.

    We know the importance of our work to those who are in the criminal justice system, particularly those who may be more isolated than usual, due to specific challenges our prisons and other secure settings are facing.

    Given the change in government advice in mid-May, we are now able to begin to process 2020 entries at the Koestler Arts Centre, whilst adhering to government and NHS guidelines around social distancing and team safety.

    We anticipated that prisons would struggle to assist entrants in getting their work to us for the original 3 April deadline and therefore extended the deadline to help with this.

    We have been delighted to see that many entrants have been able to send their work to us and are pleased to announce that the revised deadline for entries is Tuesday 7 July.

    We will do our utmost to respond to submissions in the usual ways (feedback, awards, certificates, sales, exhibitions). We will continue to focus our work on core programmes, and do our best to update entrants, volunteers, criminal justice staff and other partners on revised information.

    Please note that, as our office has been closed for over 2 months, there may be delays in our response to letters. If you have enquiries that can be emailed to info@koestlerarts.org.uk or to the appropriate staff member, please email.

    We would like to wish you all well and to thank all of you for your continued support at this extraordinary time.


    Sally Taylor, CEO

Updated deadline: Tuesday 7 July

Due to the current prison lockdown, we will be sharing a weekly Art Aid sheet with simple activities to help inspire learners in secure settings. Click on the link below to find out more.

The 2020 Koestler Awards is open to:

  • Anyone in custody in a UK prison; young offender institution; secure training centre; secure children’s home; immigration removal centre; or high or medium security psychiatric hospital or units (including the Channel Islands and Isle of Man).
  • Any current client of the National Probation Service or a Community Rehabilitation Company; a Youth Offending Service; the Scottish Criminal Justice Social Work Service or their equivalents elsewhere in the UK.
  • Any UK citizen currently in a prison overseas (must submit via Prisoners Abroad).

Themed Category

The themed category for the 2020 Koestler Awards is Window.

We invite our entrants to have a go at producing a poem, drawing, painting, song or any other Koestler Artform using the word: Window, as a theme.

Camille Walala (Photography: Charles Emerson)

Annual Exhibition Curator: Camille Walala

We are delighted to announce that our 2020 annual UK exhibition at Southbank Centre in September 2020 will be curated by artist Camille Walala!

To be in with a chance of selection for this exhibition, entrants must submit work into the 2020 Koestler Awards.

Creative work must be entered into the Koestler Awards by the deadline. It will then be judged for Koestler Awards by over 120 expert performers, writers, artists, designers and curators, and given feedback, before being considered for the UK exhibition by Camille.

Download our factsheet to find out more.

Yorkshire Exhibition

Additional exhibition opportunity for entrants in Yorkshire

Koestler Arts are coming to Yorkshire for the first time! We’re partnering with Millennium Gallery in Sheffield to exhibit artwork entered into the 2020 Koestler Awards from January to April 2021.

The work will be selected from 2020 entries from Yorkshire to all 52 categories of the Koestler Awards (fine art, music, writing and craft & design).

To be in with a chance of being exhibited, work must be submitted to the 2020 Koestler Awards by the deadline.

Find out more about the exhibition.

North West England Exhibition

Additional exhibition opportunity for entrants across the North West

Plans are underway to produce an exhibition of artwork by entrants across the North West of England as part of the Ripples of Hope Festival of Human Rights, at HOME in Manchester in Spring 2021.

The work will be selected from 2020 entries from the North West of England across all 52 categories of the Koestler Awards (fine art, music, writing and craft & design).

The show will celebrate the human right of accessing and contributing to culture.

We hope that this extra exhibition opportunity will encourage as many entries as possible from the North West of England to ensure this is a powerful showcase for the region. 

2020 Stage Play Awards

In partnership with Synergy Theatre Project

In 2020, Koestler Arts and Synergy Theatre Project will continue to showcase Stage Play entries and provide feedback for the writers.

Synergy Theatre Project is a ground-breaking charity that works through theatre towards a fairer world where those within or at risk of entering the criminal justice system can discover alternative pathways and become an integral and meaningful part of society.

Download the 2020 Stage Play guidance notes.

Under 18s Fast Feedback

Entrants who are under 18 can enter the Koestler Awards at any point in the year and get a response to their entries within 4 weeks of entry, with guaranteed feedback. Under 18s are also considered for additional Awards. 

Find out more about Fast Feedback.

Where next?

  • Read our 2020 Guidance Notes for full information on how to enter the 2020 Koestler Awards.
  • Download our 2020 Entry Form.
  • Send your work (up to 2kg) for free by posting to Freepost KOESTLER ARTS