Can planning a bank robbery really pay off? Yes, it can. The Bank Heist Contest offered $1000 for the best bank robbery proposal. Period. No need to assemble a team or snag a getaway car. Applicants just needed to plan it out, draw it up, and describe it as best as possible. The winners are $1000 richer, with no risk of jail time.

Contest Ended March 1, 2013 - Click here for the winning announcement.


Everyone knows that robbing a bank is illegal. But, there’s no law against fantasizing about it. Popular culture has long relied on this fantasy to promote a wide array of bank robber tales, often romanticizing the lawbreaker as a clever hero outsmarting the agents of economic oppression. The old American West was populated with such infamous desperados as Butch Cassidy, Frank and Jesse James, and the Dalton Gang. And, the Great Depression gave rise to the likes of Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, “Slick” Willie Sutton, and John Dillinger to name but a few of the most notorious.

Although the current economic conditions are frequently compared to the desperation of the depression era, many law-abiding citizens would finger banks as the biggest criminals in our society today. Upon further scrutiny, it becomes clear that this heightened antagonism towards the big banking establishment deserves a creative outlet.


As many people battle rising unemployment, increasing food costs, exorbitant health care fees, and bank foreclosures, the “get rich quick” narrative comes head-to-head with the “make ends meet” social conditions that have cultivated the legendary heists of the past.

The Bank Heist Contest is a participatory cultural endeavor designed to re-visit the romantic representation of bank robbers in relation to the current economic and social crises, including: income disparity, unemployment, housing foreclosures, federal bailouts, the LIBOR scandal, and a wealth of other egregious economic indicators. It is organized by the Center for Tactical Magic with support from Southern Exposure, a non-profit arts organization in San Francisco.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q. What do you mean by a “bank heist”?
A. For The Bank Heist Contest, “bank heist” will be interpreted to mean “the act of unlawfully seizing cash or other assets located in or travelling to/from a financial institution”. Robbery, burglary, larceny, theft, embezzlement, fraud and con-artistry may all be considered variations of “heists”.

Q. Are you encouraging people to rob banks?
A. In today’s socio-economic climate, do people really need encouragement? The Bank Heist Contest merely provides a creative and rewarding outlet, without the risk of jail time.

Q. Do I have to include my real name and address when I submit a proposal?
A. Anonymous proposals may be submitted but, unlike at a bank, those with a masked identity will not be eligible for receiving any money.

Q. Is this contest connected to, or supported by, any financial institutions, security firms, or law enforcement agencies?
A. No.

Q. Can I email or upload a proposal?
A. No. All proposals must be mailed/delivered by the contest deadline (high noon, January 31, 2013). Please download the submission guidelines.

Q. How can I learn more about planning a bank heist?
A. Come to one of our special events:

• Weds. Oct. 17, 7-9pm at Southern Exposure:

Settling the Score - Former bank robber, essayist, playwright, and author of “The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell,” Joe Loya discusses our collective romanticism around bank heists, how to train a bank robber, bank heist planning, and how to choose the appropriate getaway song.

• Sat. Oct. 27, 2-4pm at Southern Exposure:

Bank Heist Contest Proposal Workshop - The Center for Tactical Magic will present the taxonomy of bank robberies and inspire participants to develop Bank Heist Contest proposals.

Q. If I win, can I use the award to buy body armor or a get-away car?
A. The Bank Heist Contest does NOT fund bank robberies; it simply rewards the best proposal. How you choose to spend the reward is up to you.

Contest Winners: FICTILIS - click to see the winning proposal