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

  • Judging the Koestler Awards

Grayson Perry judging painting at the Koestler Arts Centre

Judging the Koestler Awards

Our judges play a vital part in maintaining the impact and prestige of the Koestler Awards. By using their expertise to select award-winning artworks from over 7,000 entries, the judges help recognise and reward the skill, effort and ambition of people in the UK’s criminal justice system.

Entries are judged by over 100 experts from different fields. Over the years, judges have included Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, representatives from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Council, the National Theatre, the British Film Institute, Louise Galvin, Speech Debelle, Louis Theroux and Hot Chip.

We are very grateful to the judges who have given awards and feedback to Koestler Awards entrants, and the many more people who have volunteered to help compile shortlists and give written feedback.

We are delighted to introduce our 2021 Koestler Awards judging team, including Joelle Taylor, Wilfrid Wood, Hot Chip, and Jeremy Deller.

See the full list of 2021 judges below and hear from behind the scenes with some of the judging team.

  • Animation

    Paul Bush

    Paul Bush is a filmmaker and animation director whose work has been shown in cinemas and on television all over the world. He lectures and teaches at many film schools, including the National Film School in the UK and Harvard in the USA.

  • Anthology

    Rishi Dastidar

    Rishi Dastidar is a poet and copywriter. He has written for a wide variety of brands during his career and was recently a judge for D&AD. His poetry has been published by the BBC, Financial Times and New Scientist amongst many others. A member of the Malika’s Poetry Kitchen collective, his second collection Safrron Jack is published by Nine Arches Press. He also serves as chair of the writer development organisation Spread The Word.

     

  • Arts Project

    Louise Shelly

    Louise Shelley is a London based Curator. For the last ten years she has been supporting collaborative practices through her work at The Showroom and Cubitt gallery. Louise is also an associate lecturer on the Fine Art programme at Central St Martins, University of the Arts London.

     

  • Calligraphy

    Ewan Clayton

    Ewan has practised calligraphy for over 30 years and is a Professor in Design at the University of Sunderland. He is also a core member of staff at The Royal Drawing School.

    Edward Wates

    Edward Wates worked in academic publishing for over 40 years before retiring in 2018. His calligraphy has been exhibited internationally, and is held in collections in the UK, Germany, Pakistan and the US. He is an elected member of the Letter Exchange and serves on the Crafts Study Centre Acquisitions Committee. He is also Chair of the Irene Wellington Educational Trust and the Commonwork Trust.

  • Ceramics

    Schneider

    Schneider’s punk-baroque ceramic sculptures explore the boundaries of functionality and aesthetic standards. Having grown up in East Berlin, Schneider is interested in the tension between rebellion and tradition. Daring to cry out for personal expression – and subsequent punishment – has shaped her personality and artwork.

    Tatiana Baskakova

    Tatiana is a visual artist exploring physicality of human body though performance and ceramic sculpture. She had co-founded Ceramics Studio Co-op in 2014 in London. The organisation provides arts and crafts education and supports ceramics artists at the early stage of their careers.

  • Computer Generated Music

    Hot Chip

    Hot Chip was formed in 2000 by old school friends Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard, later joined by Felix Martin, Al Doyle and Owen Clarke. Their second album ‘The Warning’ was nominated for both a Grammy and the Mercury Prize in 2006. The follow-up, 2008’s ‘Made in the Dark’ made the UK Top 5 and produced a Top 10 single in “Ready for the Floor”. The band have gone on to release a further three albums as well as develop a reputation as skilled DJs and remixers.

  • Cover Version

    Grace Lindley

    Grace is the Arts Coordinator at a major South London Hospital, responsible for managing the participatory arts programme on site, with an aim to positively impact the healthcare experience for patients, staff and visitors. Previously, Grace was the Learning & Participation Coordinator at live music producer Serious where she managed a diverse portfolio of arts projects in bespoke settings from hospitals and museums to Pupil Referral Units including an original partnership project between Serious and Koestler Arts to develop the first ever EFG London Jazz Festival concert inside a prison.

  • Craft

    Coco Sato

    Coco is an award winning Artist, Author and has been working as a Public Engagement Artist for the University of Birmingham, School of Mathematics. She is known for her modern origami work celebrating heritage, culture and technology.

  • Digital Art

    Antonio Roberts

    Antonio Roberts is an artist and curator based in Birmingham, UK, working primarily with video, code, and sound. He is critically engaged with the themes surrounding network culture and in his practice explores how technology continues to shape ideas of creation, ownership, and authorship. As a performing visual artist and musician he utilises live coding techniques to demystify technology and reveal its design decisions, limitations, and creative potential.

    His work has been featured at galleries and festivals including databit.me (2012), Furtherfield (2013, 2019), Tate Britain (2014, 2015, 2020), Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago (2014),Birmingham Open Media (2015-2016), Jerwood Arts (2016), Whitney Museum of American Art (2017), Green Man Festival (2017), Barbican (2018), Victoria and Albert Museum (2019), and the Czurles Nelson Gallery (2019).

    He has curated exhibitions and projects including GLI.TC/H Birmingham (2011), Bring Your Own Beamer (2012, 2013), Stealth (2015), No Copyright Infringement Intended (2017), Copy Paste (2020), and Rules of Engagement (2020). He is part of a-n’s Artist Council, is an Artist Advisor for Jerwood Arts and from 2014 – 2019 he was Curator at Vivid Projects where he produced the Black Hole Club artist development programme.

  • Drawing

    Dinah Casson

    Dinah Casson is a founder partner of Casson Mann, designers of museum galleries here in the UK as well as in the US, Russia, France and Italy. She has been a lecturer and external examiner at a number of design schools including the RCA and has been a judge for numerous design and art competitions.

    Terence Lambert

     

  • Fashion

    Juliet Ash

    Juliet has written widely on and lectured full time in Fashion and Dress History and Theory at many Art and Design Colleges. She currently is an occasional visiting tutor
    at the Royal College of Art.

  • Film

    Caragh Davison

    Caragh works at BFI NETWORK across their UK-Wide Talent Development Activity. Made possible through National Lottery funding, they collaborate with film organisations and leading cultural venues across the UK to provide short film and early feature development funding, industry-backed professional development and networking support to producers, writers and directors of all ages.

  • Flash Fiction and Short Story

    Carl Cattermole

    Seven-foot-tall repeat offender, ex-prisoner in multiple countries, author of ‘HMP A Survival Guide’ and ‘3us’, award winning journalist. Loves: Miami, imperfection, humans. Hates: smart phones, estate agents, RBKC.

  • Graphic Design

    Emily Wood and Ruth Sykes

    Graphic designers and educators Emily Wood and Ruth Sykes founded their graphic design consultancy REG in 2003. They combine their design practice with teaching at Central Saint Martins and Hertfordshire University (Ruth) and Camberwell College of Arts (Emily). They are interested in how graphic design can improve living and learning, and work with arts organisations, charities, schools and colleges.

     

     

  • Graphic Novel

    Hannah Berry

    Hannah Berry is an award-winning graphic novelist, cartoonist and comics creator. She is the current UK Comics Laureate and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

     

  • Hairstyling

    Louise Galvin

    Top celebrity colourist and founder of her own luxury natural haircare range, Sacred Locks. Louise is based in her father’s famous Daniel Galvin Salon in London and has over 20 years’ experience in the haircare industry. She has coloured the hair of several fashion and beauty icons including Sophie Dahl, Samantha Cameron and Patsy Kensit.

  • Handmade Book

    Mike Abrahams

    Mike is an artist and designer who makes work that explores and utilises the banal through assemblage, sculpture, artist books, drawing, film and performance. His ‘artists books’ can be found in the V&A, Tate and collections around the world.

    Deb Rindl

    Deb is a graduate of Camberwell College of Arts where she studied Graphics & Illustration as a mature student. She creates artist’s books in small editions, mostly printed and made by hand, notable for their “sculptural” quality.

  • Handmade Greetings Card

    Ellen Kirkhope

    Now working as an independent Senior Creative Consultant across a wide range of brands, Ellen formerly gained her experience as a Creative Director working within the prominent trend agency, WGSN. There she led an international team of designers in creating trend-led, commercial design work and creative editorial content for a global audience. She holds an honours degree in Graphic Design and has a love of print and illustration. Her past roles have included working for Nickelodeon, Disney and Paperchase.

     

  • Hip Hop, Rap and Grime

    Paul Cree

    Paul Cree is a rapper, storyteller, poet and actor who co-runs hip-hop theatre company Beats & Elements. He’s performed around the UK at a variety of festivals and events such as Bestival and The Edinburgh Fringe and has featured on BBC 1Xtra and BBC London. He has written and performed 2 solo shows; A Tale From The Bedsit (2013) and The C/D Borderline (2016) as well as co-writing and performing in the critically acclaimed Beats & Elements shows, No Milk For The Foxes (2015) and the recently run, High Rise eState Of Mind (2019.)  In 2018 published his debut collection of poems and stories, entitled The Suburban with Burning Eye Books.

     

  • Instrumental

    Penny Driver

    Penny Driver has had a versatile concert career. As a recitalist and chamber musician she has performed throughout the UK and in the USA. She was co-principal with Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and has had a long association with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, performing all over the world with such conductors as Valery Gergiev, Sir Colin Davis and Sir Simon Rattle.

    Penny teaches cello and chamber music at Wells Cathedral School, one of the UK’s four specialist music schools, from where her students frequently go on to win scholarships to the major conservatoires in London, Europe and USA. She is regularly invited to give Performance Classes at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and was for many years Professor of Cello at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.

  • Life Story

    Shaun Attwood

    Shaun Attwood is a speaker, author and activist based in London, who is banned from America for life. As an inmate in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail, he used a tiny pencil sharpened on a cell door to write the first prison blog, Jon’s Jail Journal. After winning a Koestler Award and getting on the Koestler Trust mentoring scheme, Shaun went on to publish 7 true crime books.

    Jane Corry

    Jane is a journalist (contributing regularly to The Daily Telegraph) and author of thrillers/domestic suspense. She is published by Penguin Books and her novels ‘My Husband’s Wife’, ‘Blood Sisters’, ‘The Dead Ex’ and ‘I Looked Away’ were Sunday Times best-sellers. She was also writer in residence at HMP Grendon and HMP Spring Hill for three years.

  • Longer Fiction and Novel

    Martha Whittome

    Martha is a qualified teacher with over ten years’ experience in literary arts administration, running the Poetry Book Society.

    Anthony Whittome

    As editorial director of Hutchinson and Random House UK for many years, Anthony published work by a range of well-known authors of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

  • Matchstick Model

    Andrew Wright

    Until recently, Andrew was Quality Assurance Manager at Republic Technologies (UK) Ltd. Having worked with a company that manufactured, and now sells, matches for over 30 years Andrew is very well qualified to judge the matchstick modelling categories. Andrew has judged the awards for a number of years and never ceases to be amazed at the time, effort and enthusiasm that is put into the entries.

  • Mixed Media

    Shama Khanna

    Shama Khanna is a curator, writer and educator from London. They are the founder of Flatness (http://flatness.eu), a long-running platform for artists’ moving image and network culture. The project has been described as a ‘digital site of resistance’ (Dr Sylvia Theuri), decentring narratives of the arts and normalcy from the margins of the online. Khanna writes regularly for independent publications such as Nang and Art Monthly, and has curated numerous events at international venues from Vancouver to Vilnius. Khanna is a member of the advisory board for not/ nowhere artist workers’ co-op, a tutor in Curating Contemporary Art, at RCA and a Cultural Tenant at Studio Voltaire Studios, London.

  • Mural and Wall Hanging

    Charles Darwent

    Charles was art critic of the Independent on Sunday from 1999-2013. He was also on the IMB at Pentonville for seven years. His biography of the artist, Josef Albers, was published by Thames & Hudson in October 2018. His next book, on the French Surrealists in New York in WW2, will be published by Thames & Hudson in 2022.

  • Music Composition

    Sam Swallow

    Sam Swallow is the keyboard player for indie pop rock band The Hoosiers. Their first single Worried About Ray reached number 5 on the UK Singles Chart in July 2007. In October 2007, they released their debut album The Trick to Life, which reached number 1 in the album charts. He composes music for film and TV, as well as orchestrating and arranging for The 1975, Cast, Simple Minds and Amy Macdonald.

  • Non-Fiction, Blog, Essay, Article and Review

    Bidisha

    Bidisha is a writer and broadcaster for the BBC and Sky, specialising in human rights, global affairs, the arts and culture. She is a Trustee of the Booker Prize Foundation. Her fifth book, ‘Asylum and Exile,’ is based on her outreach work with asylum seekers and refugees. She also does outreach work in UK prisons and detention centres.

  • Painting

    Wilfrid Wood

    Wilfrid Wood is a London-based sculptor, model maker and illustrator. He trained in graphics at Central St Martins before landing a job building latex heads for satirical TV programme, Spitting Image. From there he embarked on his artistic career, and his charismatic and quirky sculptures have since been exhibited all over the world. Wilfrid has created likenesses of a variety of people from Wayne Rooney to Paul McCartney.

    Carol Wates

    Carol studied at Guildford College of Art and Chelsea College of Art and has since had a varied career in the arts. Her family have been long-term active supporters of Koestler Arts and her husband is a Trustee of the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust.

  • Pastel

    Nami Ralph

    Nami has worked in the museum and arts sector for over ten years and has been involved in curatorial projects with the Bauhaus Foundation, British Council, Brent Artist Resources and National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi. Nami previously worked for Koestler Arts as Exhibitions & Events Producer where she co-ordinated Koestler exhibitions at the Supreme Court, Tramway, mac Birmingham and Firstsite. She currently works as an Experiences Producer for a national environmental and heritage charity. Nami is also a practising Children’s Book Illustrator and is represented by Bell Lomax Moreton.

  • Performance

    Jason N Smith 

    Jason N Smith is an award winning writer and spoken word artist who has performed at Roundhouse, Royal Festival Hall, National Theatre and various festivals and events nationally. He has also been involved in BBC Listener Project and facilitates workshops.

  • Photography

    Robert Taylor

    Portrait photographer and artist Robert Taylor has published and exhibited widely over the last 30 years, with work in the collections of V&A, the National Portrait Gallery and several other permanent collections.

  • Poem

    Joelle Taylor

    Joelle is an award-winning poet, playwright and author who founded the national youth slams for the Poetry Society in 2001. Her books include ‘Ska Tissue’ (2011), ‘The Woman Who Was Not There’ (2014) and ‘Songs My Enemy Taught Me’ (2017). Her new collection ‘C+nto & Othered Poems’ was one of the books of the year in The Telegraph. Favourite poetry collection: ‘Don’t Call Us Dead’ by Danez Smith.

    Tim Dooley

    Tim Dooley’s collections of poems include The Sound We Make Ourselves (2016) and Weemoed (2017), both published by Eyewear. He was reviews editor for Poetry London from 2008 to 2017 and is a tutor for the Poetry School. He has also written about poetry and poets for the Times and the TLS.

  • Poetry Collection

    Caroline Hammond

    London-based Caroline Hammond is part of the LetterPress poetry collective. She has read at the Aldeburgh Festival in 2016 and the South Downs Poetry Festival in 2017, where her poem, The Firetail, came second in the Festival’s competition and reads regularly at the Troubadour. Her work has been published in Under the Radar and Finished Creatures Magazines, Black Bough Poetry and the Emma Press Anthology of Contemporary Gothic Verse.

    Fiona Larkin

    Fiona Larkin’s debut pamphlet, ‘A Dovetail of Breath’ was published by Rack Press in 2020. Vital Capacity will appear in 2022 with Broken Sleep Books. Her poems have been highly commended in the Forward Prizes 2019 and appear in journals and anthologies. She organizes innovation poetry projects with Corrupted Poetry.

  • Portrait

    Edmund Clark

    Edmund Clark is an artist interested in linking history, politics and representation. His research based work combines a range of references and forms including bookmaking, installations, photography, video, documents, text and found images and material. Recurring themes include developing strategies for reconfiguring how subjects are seen and engaging with state censorship to explore unseen experiences, spaces and processes of control and incarceration in the ‘Global War on Terror’ and elsewhere. He was artist-in-residence at HMP Grendon from 2014 to 2019.

    Frances Carey

    Frances Carey spent her career at the British Museum; since 2011 she has been a freelance academic and curatorial consultant working with organisations in this country and abroad. She is the Chair of the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust which has supported an artist in residence programme at HMP Grendon for the past decade. More recently the Trust has also supported the Koestler Arts mentoring scheme, and now the Portrait category of the Koestler Awards.

  • Printmaking

    Gill Saunders

    Gill is a Senior Curator of Prints at the Victoria & Albert Museum. She has written a number of books on 20th Century and Contemporary Art.

  • Radio Play

    Katie Redford

    Katie is a writer/performer from Nottingham. In 2015, she won The BBC Norman Beaton Fellowship which resulted in her becoming part of The BBC Radio Drama Rep. She works extensively in radio and also plays Lily Pargetter in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers. Her TV work includes Mount Pleasant (Sky 1), Young Hyacinth (BBC 1) and Alma’s Not Normal (BBC2) and she also co-wrote, produced and performed in award winning short film Ghosted starring Alison Steadman. Her writing debut for radio Yellow Lips aired on BBC Radio 4 in Spring 2021, which she also played the lead in. Her debut play for stage, Tapped, is due for production in 2022 at Theatre 503.

  • Screenplay

    Lea Sellers

    Lea Sellers is a media trainer and communications consultant. She is co-founder of The Confidence People, helping people communicate with confidence when they speak in public or to the media. She moderates at various literary festivals and international conferences. Her background is in television news and current affairs where she was producer on Newsnight and Question Time for the BBC and Deputy Foreign Editor on Channel 4 News. She has a degree in Russian Studies, an MA in International Relations and an MA in Screenwriting. She writes feature film scripts and plays.

  • Sculpture

    Rose Verne

    Rose is an artist and also an art therapist. She makes stitched textiles, and sculptural assemblages using a variety of materials. She has recently begun using clay, and is making sculptures and tiles.

  • Singer-songwriter – Original

    Aaron Roach Bridgeman

    Aaron Roach Bridgeman is a TV Host and Presenter (Channel 5, Sky, BBC Three, MTV, SB.TV). He has hosted countless live events with some of the biggest names in music. He is also Ambassador for political and media literacy youth organisation Shout Out UK, and has worked as a mentor for Live Not Knives (LNK) giving workshops and talks about gang/knife crime prevention. One of Aaron’s passions is poetry and he has performed spoken word all over the UK and internationally.

  • Song Writing

    Fusion

    Fusion is an experienced presenter, educator and creative producer who helps people to discover their own stories of transformation. He a director of creative youth agency Industry In The Streets (IITS), and the founder of BMT – an immersive live experience celebrating the ‘awesome everyday’ stories of black men.

    Fusion recently led vocal workshop sessions with residents of HMP Wormwood Scrubs in preparation for unique concert – the first ever EFG London Jazz Festival show inside a prison.

  • Spoken Word

    Wanda Canton

    Wanda Canton is a doctoral researcher and facilitator exploring how rap and spoken word can enhance mental health and social justice. She has worked across secure psychiatric hospitals, domestic violence support, mental health services and community projects including Edinburgh Fringe and Happy Place Festival. Her published work includes ‘Spoken poetry at the border of trauma’ examining how rap and spoken word can be utilised in recovery. As an artist she is inspired by jazz and grime, more recently turning her attention to UK Drill.

  • Stage Play

    Synergy Theatre Project

    Koestler Arts has partnered with Synergy Theatre Project to develop the Stage Play category. All Stage Play entries will be read and judged by a team of theatre professionals and ex-prisoners. Every entry will receive written feedback. After award-winners are announced online, Synergy will be making recordings of extracts from the winning plays.

    Special thanks to readers Jennifer Bakst, Martin Edwards, Penny Gold, Neil Grutchfield, Ben Jones, Tom Latter, Ric Renton, Beth Smith and Chloe Todd-Fordham.

  • Textile Art

    Jessica Light

     

  • Themed Category: Together

    Charlotte

    Charlotte is a Koestler Award winner, published writer, and former mentee. She continues to contribute to Art Aid tasks for Koestler Arts. Passionate about animals, music, and writing. Firmly believing that arts in criminal justice settings are vital. “You will always find your voice through art”

    James Knights

    James is a self-taught painter, who won the Monument Trust Scholarship through Koestler Arts in 2019. He works mainly in acrylics creating work in a range of styles but typically with a focus on bold geometric abstract designs. He has been exhibited in the Koestler Arts annual exhibition in 2018 and 2019 and regularly sells original works and prints online.

  • Watercolour

    Jeremy Deller

    Jeremy Deller is a conceptual, video and installation artist. Much of his work is collaborative and represents a variety of political and social. He represented Great Britain at the 2013 Venice Biennale.

  • Woodcraft

    Geoff Nunn

    Geoff left school at the age of 15 and trained in joinery and carpentry which led to a varied career including manufacturing, management and teaching. He also taught at Highdown Prison.


Looking round the entries to the Koestler Awards is like taking a tour through the collective subconscious. Here are the concerns, hopes and obsessions of thousands of people.

Grayson Perry, artist