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 Arts at the Venice Biennale 2013

We were invited to partner with Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller and the British Council to take art by serving prisoners to the 2013 Venice Biennale. We helped facilitate workshops in HM Prison Parc, HM Prison Everthorpe, and HM Prison Shotts where ex-servicemen prisoners were asked to create drawings reflecting on their experiences in the military. A selection of these moving and insightful works were shown within the British Pavilion.

The most powerful series of works in the exhibition

The Independent, 2013

installation view of Jeremy Deller’s British Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2013

The partnership also enabled eight ex-prisoners to undertake a study trip to the biennale, where the British Council organised a programme of educational tours and Deller discussed his work for the British Pavilion with them. On returning to the UK, each participant was given a one-to-one advice session about future options in art education or employment. Group members also produced an artistic response to the Biennale and wrote a blog about their experiences.

Bringing ex-offenders to Venice, to work with us at the British Pavilion, makes real the theme of social justice that runs through Jeremy Deller’s exhibition. We are delighted that our partnership with the Koestler Trust enables us to take this bold and innovative step.

Andrea Rose, Director of Visual Arts, British Council

War Frames: prisoners depict their experiences in Iraq at the Venice Biennale