Banksy Is Raising $13M To Buy Prison And Convert It Into A ‘Refuge For Art’

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The Reading Prison in Bristol, where Oscar Wilde was famously confined, had its wall painted by Banksy back in March. The mural’s creation hinted to officials that he was campaigning to preserve the prison, which was decommissioned in 2013 and is planned to be sold to developers to build housing. 

Now, the elusive street artist is putting words art into action. The Guardian reports that Banksy has offered to raise millions of pounds to purchase Reading Prison from profiteers and turn it into an arts center. He is hoping to match the prison’s asking price of £10 million (US$13.2 million). 

Per Insider, bids for the jail closed early this year, but Banksy’s £10 million would be lumped together with an existing bid by the Reading Borough Council, a local government group fighting to save the historical building, raising the offer to £12.6 million (US$16.6 million). 

Banksy intends to gather the money by selling the stencil he used for Create Escape, the artwork seen on the wall of the prison. The mural portrays a man escaping jail through a rope made from bedsheets, with a typewriter at its end. 

It is believed that the art depicts author Oscar Wilde, who was imprisoned at the Reading facility from 1895 to 1897 for “gross indecency.” Wilde was in a romantic relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, and gay relations were a crime then. In jail, he penned, De Profundis, a letter to his former lover, and after his release he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, where he condemned the ruthless Victorian penal system. 

The stencil used for the Banksy piece was put on display at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery this month. 

Banksy described Wilde as “the patron saint of smashing two contrasting ideas together to create magic,” as quoted by the Guardian

“Converting the place that destroyed him into a refuge for art feels so perfect we have to do it,” said the Bristol street artist. 

According to the report, local government representatives have been supportive of Banksy’s campaign, as have actors Dame Judi Dench, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet, and Natalie Dormer.