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

Antony Gormley at Inside, 2017
183 More Sleeps, The Koestler Scotland Exhibition
A panel discussion at We are all human with Benjamin Zephaniah
RE:FORM, Art By Offenders, Secure Patients And Detainees

Public Programmes

Each year the Koestler Trust 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 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.