Banksy has offered to raise millions of pounds to buy Reading Prison, where Oscar Wilde was once held, so that it can be turned into an arts hub.
The street artist pledged to match the jail’s Â£ 10million asking price by selling the stencil he used to paint on the Grade II listed building in March, a move activists hope to prevent his sale to real estate developers.
Banksy’s contribution, along with that of Reading City Council, would bring the bid for the old prison to around Â£ 12.6million.
The Bristol-based artist said Wilde was “the patron saint of crushing two contrasting ideas to create magic,” adding: “Converting the place that destroyed it into a haven for art is so perfect that we have to do it. “
Banksy’s mural showed a figure, believed to be the writer, rappelling down from the perimeter wall of the sheets with a typewriter.
The stencil was on display at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery earlier this month as part of an exhibition by artist Grayson Perry for his Channel 4 series Grayson’s Art Club.
Actors Dame Judi Dench, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet and Natalie Dormer are among the stars who have supported the campaign to convert the prison into a cultural center.
Wilde was held in prison between 1895 and 1897 after being convicted of gross indecency when his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas came to light.
While incarcerated he wrote De Profundis, his letter to his former lover and, after his release, recounted his time there in The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
The prison was built on the site of the medieval Reading Abbey, a monastery founded by Henry I. It is believed that Henry was buried under the altar, which is now believed to be under the parking lot or the walls of the prison.
Matt Rodda, Labor MP for Reading East, said the concept of using the prison to house the arts had been proven by past exhibitions, adding that he planned to raise an urgent matter in Parliament this week to put ministers ” on site “with the offer. .
âThere are these incredible layers of history – there is the literary history and the history of the LGBT community, and the connection to Oscar Wilde,â he said. âBut there is also a local and national Victorian social history and there is a connection to the royal family in one building and it is so well connected to the rest of the country.
“For so many reasons, it’s only right that this building is preserved and used constructively rather than just being gutted and turned into apartments or whatever.”
Toby Davies, artistic director of the Rabble Theater in Reading, said it would be criminal for the Justice Department to refuse the artist’s offer.
Davies told the BBC: âBanksy is offering an incredible amount of money that will go directly to the Department of Justice for the public good. Banksy’s offer is phenomenal and if the Justice Department turns it down I consider it a criminal act. “
Jason Brock, the head of the council, praised the attention Banksy’s interest in Reading Prison had placed on the sale.
“The board has so far had only informal approaches from Banksy’s representatives, but no detailed discussions,” Brock said. “Our candidacy remains firmly on the table and enjoys broad support – both within the community here in Reading and the arts, heritage and cultural community at large – all of whom recognize the enormous historical and cultural value. from prison. “