Arts prizes have become an increasingly prominent part of the cultural landscape, influencing not only the careers of individual artists but also the policies of cultural industries and cultural institutions. Despite this, relatively little detailed attention has been given to the arts prize. While at the same time media-generated conventional wisdom has tended to portray prize juries as acting either corruptly or irrationally. This article challenges such views, and argues that the prize jury needs to be understood as a form of political institution, in which decision rules, power and other factors play their part. This conclusion is reached through the detailed study of three UK arts prizes.