The British Council announces new initiative to take ex-offenders to the Venice Biennale

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The British Council announces new initiative to take ex-offenders to the Venice Biennale
English Magic, Installation View, British Pavilion 2013.

LONDON.- A new partnership between the British Council and the Koestler Trust will see eight ex-offenders travel to the 55th International Art Exhibition, the Venice Biennale, as part of an education initiative. Accompanied by support staff from the Koestler Trust, a charity that has been promoting arts in the British criminal justice system for over 50 years, each of the ex-offenders is training for a career in the arts, having previously been a winner in the annual Koestler Awards for arts in prisons.

Prison art is a feature of Jeremy Deller’s exhibition at the Venice Biennale, commissioned by the British Council. The Koestler Trust arranged for Deller to run drawing workshops at HMPs Everthorpe, Parc and Shotts. The drawings on display in the British Pavilion convey the prisoners' first hand experiences of zones of conflict.

Independent research by charity think-tank New Philanthropy Capital has found that arts interventions in criminal justice settings can reduce re-offending rates by as much as half. (Unlocking the Value, New Philanthropy Capital, 2011). The British Council will be responsible for co-ordinating study visits to the British Pavilion by ex-offenders, including a programme of educational tours of the Biennale pavilions and Venetian galleries. On returning to the UK, each participant will be given a one-to-one advice session about future options in art education or employment. A public talk about the project will take place in the autumn at Southbank Centre, during the Koestler Trust's annual national exhibition of arts by offenders They will also produce an artistic response to the Biennale and write a blog about their experiences.

Andrea Rose, Director of Visual Arts at the British Council, said: ‘Bringing ex-offenders to Venice, to work with us at the British Pavilion, makes real the theme of social justice that runs through Jeremy Deller’s exhibition. We are delighted that our partnership with the Koestler Trust enables us to take this bold and innovative step.’

Tim Robertson, Chief Executive of the Koestler Trust, said: ‘The arts can have a huge impact on offenders, enabling them to create positive new lives for themselves, free from crime. I'm sure that impact will be enhanced even further by engaging offenders in art of the highest international quality - at the Biennale. And I hope this remarkable project will blaze a trail for others to follow - a reminder of the role the arts can play in some of the toughest challenges facing our culture, and of the importance of making the arts accessible to everyone. I feel very excited and proud to be involved in this ground-breaking initiative.’

The ex-offenders visiting Venice will be carefully risk-assessed, and will all have resettled in the community.

Jeremy Deller's British Council commission is at the Venice Biennale until 24 November and will tour national venues in 2014.

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