Banksy pledges £10m funding bid to help save Reading Gaol

Famously anonymous street artist Banksy is selling a stencil of their artwork to support the bid for this LGBTQ+ cultural heritage site.

Painting on a brick wall of a prisoner climbing down a rope with a type writer. Banksy pledges £10m for the stencil of this street art to secure the purchase of Reading Gaol prison.
Image: Screenshot via Instagram @save_reading_gaol

Banksy has pledged to sell the stencil that was used to paint the famous image of prisoner Oscar Wilde as he escaped Reading Gaol on a rope made of knotted sheets and a typewriter.

Reading Gaol jail has been described by Karen Rowland of Reading Borough Council as a ‘Mecca’ and an ‘LGBT cultural heritage site’.

Born in Westland Row, Dublin, Wilde spent two years in the prison. He was convicted of “gross indecency” with other men between 1895 and 1897 for consensual homosexual acts when his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas was exposed. After his release, Wilde wrote about his experiences as a prisoner in his heart-wrenching poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

The Grade II building, owned by the Ministry of Justice, was put up for sale in 2019.

To prevent developers from pouncing on the property and converting this iconic site into housing, campaigners of ‘Save Reading Gaol’, have been working nonstop to protect the prison. Instead, they hope to transform the derelict prison into a tourist attraction, theatre venue, and arts centre for the community of Reading.

The stencil for sale was created by the notorious artist Banksy and used in March 2021 to create this piece. It is currently on show at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery as part of the Grayson’s Art Club exhibition, where it is credited as coming ‘from the collection of Reading Council’.

The artist has pledged it to the people of Reading on the grounds that all proceeds from its sale are used to secure the purchase of the building and convert it into an arts centre.

The ‘Save Reading Gaol’ campaigners have said the stencil will “hopefully be enough” to convince the Ministry of Justice to accept Reading Council’s transformation bid, after the council’s 2020 bid to buy the site and turn it into an art centre and LGBTQ+ museum was rejected.

“I promised myself I’d paint the wall even before I knew what it was. I’m passionate about it now, though. 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,” said Banksy to the Sunday Times.

Oscar Wilde is celebrated all over the world as one of Ireland’s best-loved LGBTQ+ writers. The importance of his work is highlighted in the remarkable effort taken to preserve the meaning of Reading Gaol for the LGBTQ+ community.

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