Koestler Trust

‘In our minds we can always be free.’ – a prisoner

In an increasingly complex world, the case for arts and culture strategies to address the social goals of building healthy communities, a healthy democracy, and supporting civic engagement is even stronger. Prospero World is continuously seeking organisations that exemplify these practices and we are pleased to highlight the Koestler Trust (charity number 01105759) in their work of engaging and encouraging those physically confined to transform their lives through art.
The Koestler Trust is a national charity that awards, exhibits, and sells artworks by offenders. The Koestler Trust aims to help people lead more positive lives by motivating them to participate and achieve in the arts and has been doing so since its creation by writer and activist Arthur Koestler (1905-1983) fifty-five years ago. Through the arts, the Trust works toward contributing to the reduction of offending, the rehabilitation of prisoners and assistance with transitioning back into the community.
The Trust’s aims are to:

  1. Help motivate offenders, secure patients and detainees to take part and achieve in the arts, helping them transform their lives.

  2. Increase public awareness and understanding of arts by offenders, secure patients, and detainees.

  3. Be an efficient, dynamic and collaborative organisation driven by values, quality and outcomes.

The Koestler Trust achieves this through its annual arts award scheme, a national arts exhibition, and an artist mentorship programme.
Koestler Arts Awards


The Koestler Awards is an annual awards scheme run by the Koestler Trust. Each year the Trust puts out a call for artistic entries in over 50 arts categories to over 300 criminal justice establishments across the UK including prisons, young offender institutions, probation teams, secure units, immigration removal centres, and secure mental health facilities. Over the summer, the over 8,000 entries are judged by experts in each art category who give feedback and select the award winners. Every entrant gets a certificate, many receive personalised feedback about their work by the expert judges, and over 2,000 awards are given by the judges. There is £30,000 in prize money ranging from a £20 Bronze Award to £100 Platinum Award and this year, there are also 100 additional £25 prizes for first-time entrants. After the awards have been distributed, a national exhibition is held in September at Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre.

















2017 Koestler Art Exhibition


The annual UK Koestler Exhibition is comprised of 2017 Koestler Awards entries. The 2017 exhibition opens on 21 September 2017, at Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre. This year’s exhibition is curated by the celebrated artist Sir Antony Gormley with the theme ‘INSIDE’. In his call to artists, Sir Antony Gormley said, “I want your art to say something to all of us outside about what it feels like to be you, inside.” Over the summer, Sir Antony Gormley will be planning the exhibition and selecting the over 150 works to be displayed.
Over 20,000 people view the exhibition each year, and the Trust has implemented Family Days to allow the family members of offenders to attend the exhibition. Ex-prisoners act as hosts and give tours of the exhibition. If the artists choose, the Trust offers to sell the works on their behalf which raises over £20,000 for offenders annually. From the proceeds of artwork sales, 25% goes to Victim Support, the national charity for people affected by crime.

Koestler Mentorship Programme


In 2007, the Trust commenced an arts mentoring for ex-offenders scheme to assist with successfully transitioning them back into the community. The mentoring scheme pairs trained artists with ex-offenders over the course of a year for 7-10 mentoring sessions. Together, they create an action plan that will help further the mentee’s journey as an artist. In its pilot mentoring programme, the Trust integrated an evaluation which aimed to demonstrate that the arts can have wide-ranging benefits for offenders and their communities – potentially reducing re-offending.

















Why the Arts Work: Research 


The UK leads the world in bringing arts into the system of criminal rehabilitation. As the leading prison arts charity, Koestler Trust is in a position to demonstrate their effectiveness. Arts activity offers a diversion from re-offending and the Koestler Trust’s activities help offenders move towards crime-free lives.  A report titled The Arts of Desistance, by Dr Leonidas Cheliotis, London School of Economics (2014) demonstrated the profound positive impact the Trust’s mentoring scheme has had on its participants.
Independent research shows that arts in prison settings create long-term positive effects by being a practical way to occupy time, elevating self-esteem, and increasing sense of well-being, in addition to leading to new skills and creating employment opportunities. Further evidence for arts in prisons can be found in the online Evidence Library of the National Alliance for the Arts in Criminal Justice which showcases the impact of the arts in criminal justice settings.
Organisational Information
The Koestler Trust is based in the former Governor’s house at HMP Wormwood Scrubs. It employs fifteen people and has 120 volunteers. Last year (2016) the Koestler Trust’s income was £789,635 and total expenditure amounted to £708,178 of which £609,407 was for charitable activity, plus a £80K surplus to roll over to the following year. The Koestler Trust is funded by a combination of public and private contributions. The Koestler Trust receives a public sector grant from the National Offender Management Service of £75,000 which is matched by a grant from the Arts Council England. The remainder of the budget comes from individuals, companies, trusts and foundation donations. The Trust is part of the National Portfolio Organisation of the Arts Council England – which is a “seal of approval” and testament to the quality of the work, representing some of the best arts practice globally.
The Koestler Trust has seen impressive growth in Income over the last ten years. The Trust’s income has increased 2.8 times than what it used to be in 2005. Despite having no endowment nor capital, the Trusthas a managed to secure a steady stream of support from individuals, foundation grants, corporate support, government funding, and the sales of art works with at least 3 months of operating costs in reserve.


Interview with Chief Executive, Sally Taylor

Sally Taylor leads the Koestler Trust as its Chief Executive. She is involved in many social change initiatives including Trustee of Streetwise Opera and steering committee member of National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance.
How did you become involved with Koestler Trust?


I have been Chief Executive here for 2 years. Having been an arts manager all my career I was attracted to it because I knew what a huge difference arts with offenders makes, following my work producing West Side Story and Guys and Dolls in HMP Wandsworth a few years ago.  The impact on the men of being involved in that work was palpable.  Koestler makes an important impact on the lives of offenders too, in a really positive way.
What makes Koestler Trust special?

We are the oldest prison arts charity in the UK, and the only one globally which supports prisoners and others in secure establishments with their art through an annual awards scheme and exhibition. 

  • ‘For many prisoners, achieving a Koestler award is the first time anything they have done in their life has met with any recognition; this award alone can be a life changer.’ -- 2016 entrant

  • ‘Creating art has given me hope and confirmation that there is more to me than a man with a criminal record and no future.’ -- HMP Guys Marsh entrant


How has Koestler Trust evolved in its 55 year history? 

It has evolved in both reach and impact.  The initial Koestler awards attracted about 300 entries and the exhibition was in a church hall. Now we have around 8000 entries, involvement of over 300 establishments each year, an exhibition at the Southbank Centre, some great people like Antony Gormley, Louis Theroux and Emma Bridgewater involved in curation and judging, but at its core the importance of what we do is still the same.
What is the biggest challenge for Koestler Trust?


You would expect me to say this, but it is of course raising funds each year. We have a small amount of public funding for which we are very grateful, both from the Arts Council of England and the Ministry of Justice, but the rest we raise from Trusts, Foundations, sales of work (Victim Support also receive a donation from sales) and individuals.  We also need a more effective base from which to operate, we are currently in the ex Governors residence of HMP Wormwood Scrubs.
What would a donation of £10,000 enable Koestler Trust to achieve?

It would support our Family Days at our exhibitions.  We invite all the families of our exhibited artists to visit the Exhibition, and pay for their travel and a special day for them.  It has a great impact on both families and artists. Keeping connected with your family makes an important difference to whether you will reoffend on release.

‘I never thought something like this could change someone like my son. He has been restored to me. I can’t explain exactly the joy and relief I feel.’  -- Family member 2016


What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Knowing that every day will be different, the talent and imagination of our artists, and the wonderful team I work with at the Koestler Trust. (And if the Today programme put Peter Mandelson on.)

Koestler Trust