The Gaol first opened in 1886, after 13 years of construction by convict laborers. During World War I, the building became an internment camp, in which detainees of German descent filled their time with impressive flourishes of creativity through art and performance. This experience continues to influence artists to this day, while the statuesque stone building provides an impressive backdrop for the artworks.
The gaol is situated in the natural coastal surroundings of Arakoon National Park and inspires numerous environmentally-themed group installations by local school students.
Sculpture in the Gaol has a ten-year history. The exhibition program begins with the Escapee Trail in which sculptures appear throughout the township of South West Rocks in early July, bringing the playful nature of art to businesses for everyone to enjoy.
This is followed by the main exhibition in the Gaol spanning the month of August each year. The exhibition attracts artist entries from all over NSW and interstate, plus many local schools from around the Macleay Valley. Works are exhibited in and around the Gaol cells, which makes for a unique gallery experience.
Trial Bay Gaol receives thousands of visitors during the month-long exhibition, with some 1,800 people visiting during the opening weekend.
The exhibition unites the community around South West Rocks through its engagement with schools and in particular via the Escapee Trail, in which sculptures are hosted by local businesses.
Works are priced for sale, both during the exhibition and via a year-round online retail channel for participating artists.
Sculpture in the Gaol is presented by a sub-committee of Macleay Valley Arts Council working in partnership with State and local government bodies, business chambers, schools and business sponsors.