Koestler Arts

About Arthur Koestler

Arthur Koestler was born in Budapest in 1905 (5th September as it happens, thus sharing the day – though not year – of our very own Chris Stockwell!).  Whilst serving as a war correspondent for the British paper News Chronicle during the Spanish Civil War he was imprisoned by the fascists, and sentenced to death, before being released in a prisoner exchange.  Thus he was influenced in later life by his first hand experience of incarceration.  He wrote extensively on the moral dangers of politics that sacrifice the means to an end and broke off from the communist party.  Koestler was again briefly imprisoned as a foreign national in France in 1939 but released in 1940 due to British pressure though when he eventually arrived on British soil, without an entry permit, he was imprisoned for a few months pending an investigation into his case.  Koestler became a British citizen in 1948 and continued writing about creativity in science and mysticism.  Later in life Koestler suffered from leukemia and Parkinson’s Disease and as a believer in voluntary euthanasia, ended his own life in 1983.

The Koestler Trust

In the 1950s Koestler  campaigned for the abolition of capital punishment, which in Britain at that time was by hanging.  In particular Koestler wrote a series of articles in The Observer newspaper and the book Reflections on Hanging. Once it became clear that the campaign was successful (hanging was finally abolished in 1965), he turned his attention to ‘an imaginative and exciting way to stimulate as far as possible, and in as many cases as possible, the mind and spirit of the prisoner.’

The first Koestler Awards

This collaboration between the editor of The Observer, David Astor, and Koestler’s agent, A D Peters, resulted in a scheme established in 1962, to encourage prisoners to engage in art activities and then to reward their efforts.  There was almost no precedent for work by prisoners being judged and rewarded by prominent experts from outside the prison system, but the idea was welcomed by Home Secretary RA Butler.  The first awards had 200 entrants and the winners were exhibited in the gallery at Foyle’s Bookshop.

Setting up the Koestler Awards

The scheme expanded rapidly. Koestler initially paid for the prize money himself, but more funding was soon needed from other sources, and in 1969 the awards were formalised into a charitable trust.  Koestler left £10,000 to the charity in his will but since then the charity has had to raise all necessary funds to support its work each year.

Koestler Arts

Today, The Koestler Trust uses Koestler Arts as its working name with the strapline ‘Unlock the talent inside.’  Funding today comes from public sector grants, organisations, charitable donations and individuals, many of whom choose to remain anonymous.  The annual awards programme receives over 8,000 entries and since 2007 ex-offenders have been supported to continue pursuing their artistic activities ensuring long term improvements are made to people’s lives.

Sculpture at Kingham Lodge

Sculpture at Kingham Lodge is proud to be a supporter of Koestler Arts and Chris and Delphie Stockwell also sponsor an individual award.  The positive impact on people’s lives is testament to the therapeutic benefits of art for people in secure institutions.