Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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Banksy Promises to Help Turn Oscar Wilde's Prison Into an Art Center

Banksy's mural at Reading Gaol

Acclaimed street artist Banksy has promised to donate about $13 million to buy the prison that Oscar Wilde was incarcerated in for his sexuality. Advocates hope to turn the property into an art center.

Banksy said they’d sell the stencil used to paint a mural on the wall of the prison in Reading back in March to match the British government's asking price. The mural depicts a figure — who many say is supposed to be Wilde — escaping over a wall with bedsheets tied together and a typewriter being used as a weight.

It’s a move that campaigners hope will stop the building from being sold to house developers, according to The Guardian.

Banksy said Wilde was “the patron saint of smashing two contrasting ideas together to create magic.”

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

Celebrities have also gotten behind the campaign. Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet, and Natalie Dormer are just some of the stars supporting it, reported the outlet.

Wilde served time at the prison, known as Reading Gaol, from 1895 to 1897 for "gross indecency" after his affair with Alfred Douglas became public.

While imprisoned, he wrote "De Profundis," which is a letter to Douglas. He went on to write the poem "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" after his release, which examined his time in prison.

The prison stands on what was a medieval abbey, founded by King Henry I. The king is thought to be buried in what is now possibly the parking lot or walls of the building, The Guardian notes.

Member of Parliament Matt Rodda, who represents Reading East, said that the concept of an art center has already proven successful since the building’s held exhibitions in the past. He said he’d raise the situation in parliament this week.

“There are these amazing layers of history — there’s the literary history and the LGBT community history, and the link to Oscar Wilde,” he told The Guardian. “But there’s also some local and national Victorian social history and there’s the link to the royal family all in one building and it’s so well connected to the rest of country.

“For so many reasons it’s absolutely right this building is preserved and used in a constructive way rather that just being gutted and turned into flats or some other thing.”

The artistic director for Reading’s Rabble theatre, Toby Davies, explained it would be a shame for officials to ignore the offer.

“Banksy is offering an incredible amount of money, which will go directly to the [Ministry of Justice] for the public benefit,” he told the BBC. “Banksy’s offer is phenomenal, and if the MOJ turn that down, then I consider that a criminal act.”

“We very much welcome the attention that Banksy’s interest in Reading Gaol has placed on both the MOJ’s sale of the vacant prison and on the council’s ambition to transform it into an hub of arts, heritage, and culture,” said Jason Brock, leader of the Reading Borough Council, according to Artnet News.

“The council has had only informal approaches from representatives of Banksy to date, but no detailed discussions.”

Reading Gaol was shuttered by the British government in 2013. A previous offer by the local government to buy the property for about $3.4 million was rejected for being too low.

Tags: Art, News, U.K., World

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