Story at a glance

  • British street artist Banksy wants to convert a prison that formerly held poet Oscar Wilde.
  • Banksy pledged to raise millions of dollars toward buying the prison, which was put on sale back in 2019.
  • Local British officials endorsed Banksy’s campaign to convert the prison to an art center.

Famed British street artist Banksy wants to convert a famous prison into an arts venue.

Reading Prison is where poet Oscar Wilde was held between 1895 and 1897 after he was convicted for “gross indecency” over a same-sex affair he had with another English poet, Lord Alfred Douglas.

The prison was put up for sale back in 2019 and Banksy has offered to raise millions of dollars toward buying it, promising to match the jail’s nearly $10 million asking price, according to the BBC

“Oscar Wilde is the patron saint of smashing two contrasting ideas together to create magic. Converting the place that destroyed him into a refuge for art feels so perfect we have to do it,” Banksy, whose identity remains anonymous, said, according to the BBC.


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A spokesperson for Banksy also told the BBC that the artist’s pledge was dependent on the Ministry of Justice awarding the bid to the Reading Borough Council and the jail being converted to an arts center.

British actor Judi Dench, Kate Winslet and Natalie Dormer have also lent their support to Banksy’s campaign to convert the prison to an arts center.

British officials have also praised Banksy for his pledge. 

“I've been speaking to Banksy and his team for some months now and I'm impressed with his commitment to saving the prison. He really sees the potential in this important historic building, which not only has links to Oscar Wilde but is built on top of the site of the former Reading Abbey, where King Henry I was buried,” Matt Rodda, a member of the British Parliament, told the BBC. 

It’s not clear if the British government is considering Banksy’s proposal yet, with the Ministry of Justice telling the BBC the deadline for bids on the prison has closed and the agency is currently considering the ones it has already received. 

Earlier this year, Banksy confirmed he was behind artwork that was displayed on Reading Prison that depicted an inmate escaping on a rope made of bedsheets tied to a typewriter. The prisoner is assumed to be Wilde. 


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Published on Dec 06, 2021