The art awards scheme for offenders, secure patients and detainees

We’re the UK’s best-known prison arts charity. We’ve been awarding, exhibiting and selling artworks by offenders, detainees and secure patients for over 55 years.

Our awards receive over 7,000 entries a year – inspiring offenders to take part in the arts, work towards positive achievements and transform their lives. Our national exhibition attracts 20,000 visitors – showing the public the talent and potential of offenders and people in secure settings.

We have no endowment or capital – our work depends entirely on donations.

Read more about us

Wet Sunday, HM Prison Nottingham, First Koestler Award winner for Painting , 1962

The history of the Trust

In the 1950s, the writer Arthur Koestler (1905 –1983) campaigned for the abolition of capital punishment, especially through a series of articles in The Observer newspaper and the book Reflections on Hanging (1956). Once it became clear that the campaign was successful (hanging was finally abolished in 1965), he turned his attention to ‘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.’

The first Koestler Awards

Koestler decided to set up an annual scheme to award ‘creative work in the fields of literature, the arts or sciences by those physically confined’. There was almost no precedent for work by prisoners being judged and rewarded by prominent experts from outside the prison system, but the idea was welcomed by Home Secretary RA Butler. A steering committee was set up, chaired by Koestler’s literary agent AD Peters, and including the editor of The Observer David Astor. Koestler was reluctant to have the scheme named after him, but the committee insisted.

When the first round of Koestler Awards took place in 1962, there were about 200 entries and the best visual winners were exhibited in the gallery at Foyle’s Bookshop. Koestler Exhibitions have continued since then and now include shows around the UK.

Setting up the Koestler Trust

The scheme expanded rapidly. Koestler initially paid for the prize money himself, but more funding was soon needed from other sources, and in 1969 the awards were formalised into a charitable trust.

When Koestler died, he left £10,000 to the Trust. We have no capital or endowment, we raise all the funds to support our work each year.

Celebrating 50 years of the Koestler Trust – 2012

2012 marked 50 years of encouraging prisoners, secure patients and detainees to participate in the arts. We held a fundraising dinner at the Waldorf Hotel in London – where some of those initial discussions about the new charity took place. Items including artwork by Antony Gormley, Mary Feddon and a special Koestler birthday cake decorated by Grayson Perry were auctioned to raise funds for the Trust.


Koestler Awards Entry Poster from 1969



Koestler Exhibition Poster from 1993