Reading prison could be turned into an arts centre that celebrates its LGBTQ ties – if Banksy has their way. The street artist has offered to raise £10m towards buying the shuttered building to save it from developers and open it to artists.
The Grade II-listed building is owned by the Ministry of Justice and has been defunct since 2013, though it costs around £250,000 a year to maintain. Since then, it’s hosted several temporary site-specific installations by Artangel, though its long-term future is unclear.
According to the Guardian, Banksy has offered to match the jail’s £10m asking price by selling the stencil of Oscar Wilde he used to paint on the side of the prison in March. Combined with funds offered by Reading Council, this would bring the overall bid to £12.6m.
The site has particular significance to the LGBT community as Oscar Wilde spent two years inside the Victorian prison for ‘gross indecency’ after the discovery of his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. It was in Reading Gaol where Wilde wrote De Profundis – a pivotal LGBTQ text.
Banksy said Wilde was ‘the patron saint of smashing two contrasting ideas together to create magic,’ adding: ‘Converting the place that destroyed him into a refuge for art feels so perfect we have to do it.’