Restoration of the former Darlinghurst Gaol has long been part of the school’s strategy to open its door to public visitors and develop an arts and education precinct beyond its walls.

Long term plans have included possible pop-up exhibition space utilising vacant shop fronts along Oxford St and identifying opportunities for studio spaces.

Cell Block Theatre, established in 1955 in the former women’s cell block and opened by Sir Robert Helpmann and Katherine Hepburn, is to be upgraded into a place for performance art, exhibitions and talks.

The $18 million works would be extensive and cover the entire site, the minister said, with the intention of revealing a layered past that should be celebrated and conserved for generations of Australian artists to come.

“The sandstone walls on Forbes Street and Darlinghurst Street will be remediated, walkways will be improved, and the Cell Block Theatre will be upgraded to enable it to be used by more members of the public as an extraordinary performance venue,” Mr Harwin said.

Steven Alderton and alumni Guy Maestri

Steven Alderton and alumni Guy MaestriCredit:Louie Douvis

According to its latest annual report for 2019, the NAS reported a net deficit of $1.4 million – equivalent to the maintenance budget for that year. This compared to a surplus of $3.3 million in 2018.

The $18 million grant has been drawn from a $120 million fund set aside in the NSW Budget to renew arts and culture venues with co-funding secured from the minister’s Stoneworks Program.

Chief executive Steve Alderton said: “The former Darlinghurst Gaol site is one of the most important in Sydney and this funding allows us to undertake crucial restoration and repair work, as well as expand our public engagement with the new museum and gallery and upgraded Cell Block Theatre.”

The walls of the prison were built by convict labour and by 1900 the gaol held 700 inmates. Notable prisoners included Henry Lawson and the bushranger Captain Moonlite.

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