Banksy has offered to contribute £10 million toward the purchase of Reading prison with the aim of converting it into an art centre, just months after he painted a mural — titled Create Escape — on the building where Oscar Wilde was famously imprisoned.
The prison has been up for sale since 2019, with other development plans threatening to turn the historical building into apartments. Banksy has offered to sell the stencil he used to paint Create Escape in order to raise the funds to buy the prison, adding to Reading borough council’s previous offer of £2.6 million, which was rejected for being too low.
“Oscar Wilde is the patron saint of smashing two contrasting ideas together to create magic,” says the artist in a statement shared by the BBC. “Converting the place that destroyed him (Wilde) into a refuge for art feels so perfect we have to do it.”
The Ministry of Justice, which is selling the prison, states that the deadline for bids has already passed, adding: “We are currently considering the ones we received.” However, the Labour MP for Reading East, Matt Rodda, says that he hopes to put ministers “on the spot” by presenting the offer in parliament.
“Banksy has been incredibly generous and this is the best Christmas present Reading could wish for,” Rodda adds. “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.”
“I do hope the government now listen and consider this bid — both the money from the council and the arts community — and look at this again, and help us turn the jail into an arts hub for our community and the country as a whole.”
Depicting a prisoner in the act of escaping over the wall with a typewriter, Create Escape was painted by the graffiti artist back in March. Originally, it appeared as an anonymous artwork, but was subsequently verified as a genuine Banksy in a Bob Ross-style video posted to his official Instagram.
In August, following the Reading prison mural, new Banksy artworks popped up in seaside towns around the UK, as part of his “Great British Spraycation” series. At least one of these artworks has since been removed by the owner of the building it was painted on, who tore it off the wall to sell at auction.
Revisit Banksy’s behind-the-scenes video that shows him painting Create Escape below.