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 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.

  • Our Impact

Life Through a Lens, The Hellingly Centre, Painting 2018

Our Impact

The impact of arts in prisons

The impact of arts in prisons is broad, often providing a springboard for positive change. Arts and creativity can help support prisoners, secure hospital patients and immigration detainees to learn new skills and gain the confidence to live positive and productive lives.

Evidence suggests that engaging in the arts can improve wellbeing, family connections, motivation and resilience and provide opportunities for self-reflection and education.

How does art help prisoners?

Engaging in the arts can help prisoners on their rehabilitative journeys.

I was a violent man, I was a drug addict, but now I’m an artist.

Former Koestler Mentee

Art brings out the best in you.

HM Prison and Young Offender Institution Rochester

Without creative outlets within the prison system, I think I would not have been able to cope with the stresses and strains of the often negative and hostile environment. Being creative has opened up new avenues of progression that I did not previously know existed.

Koestler Awards entrant

Read more evidence in our Research and Reports.

Our work: harnessing the impact of the arts

Our work harnesses the uniquely transformative impact of the arts in prisons to support individuals on their rehabilitative journeys.

The annual Koestler Awards are simple and powerful. We reward achievement, build self-confidence and open new horizons for some of society’s most disadvantaged and marginalised people.

Our Koestler Awards entrants receive feedback and recognition for their creative achievements. Entrants have the opportunity to have their artwork displayed at our annual exhibition at Southbank Centre, at regional exhibitions across the UK, and benefit from art sales via our pop-up and online shops.

For many entrants, external encouragement can be a vital stepping stone in building self-confidence, positive relationships and engaging with education. In 2020-21, 92% of our entrants told us that entering the Koestler Awards improved their self-confidence.

Read more in our Impact Statements.

Artists whose work is chosen for exhibitions have the opportunity to celebrate their achievements with family and friends at our family days, helping to build and reinforce the relationships which are vital to rehabilitation and resettlement.

I had worked so hard trying to earn a place in your exhibition last year. I set a goal, promising my mum I would give it everything I’ve got and when you invited her, that meant I had actually set myself a target and reached it, and I’ve never done that before. The sense of self-worth that has given me is a big part of the reason I’m doing so well now[…] It has changed the way I look at myself and the way others look at me.

Exhibited artist 2018

Continued support for ex-prisoners

Our arts mentoring scheme pairs recently released prisoners with arts professionals to support them in continuing their creative practice in the community. Each year we also provide employment and valuable work experience for 6–8 ex-prisoners through our exhibition host programme. Hosts develop and refine vital workplace skills and can share with audiences the impact of art rehabilitation in prisons.

Changing public perceptions

It is important for us to engage the public in our work. All our exhibitions are free to attend and feature Audience Feedback Cards, on which visitors can write feedback to be sent directly to the artists. Each feedback card acts as a vote towards Audience Choice Awards, providing our entrants with an opportunity to connect with people outside prison.

We are proud to have a relationship with Victim Support, the charity that supports victims of crime. We have held events for Victim Support staff and volunteers at our exhibitions and worked together to curate our 2010 UK exhibition at Southbank Centre. When we sell artworks on behalf of our entrants, a donation of 25% is made to Victim Support.

Where next?

2020 – 2021


award entries in 52 art categories


award entrants


awards won


prisons, secure hospitals, children’s homes and immigration removal centres


expert judges including Alison Lapper, George the Poet, Jeremy Deller and Hot Chip