SWELL was the brainchild of a shared moment between two creative minds.

In 2002, Natasha Edwards and Kylie Mitchell-Smith shared the idea of creating a new art experience for everyone while their four small children played alongside them.

Their idea was bold. It was challenging. It was about creating art in an accessible environment and it eventually evolved into SWELL Sculpture Festival, a free, outdoor sculpture exhibition on the beautiful beaches of Currumbin.

Six thousand people visited the first SWELL Sculpture Festival on a sunny September weekend in 2003, enjoying 23 sculptures on display.

The SWELL Sculpture Festival strengthened its presence on the Queensland art circuit in 2004 with an exhibition of works that included high calibre artists such as Christopher Trotter (Queensland) and international artists such as Andy Scott (Scotland) and Nick Horrigan (UK). In 2005, the festival extended to ten days and introduced the popular SWELL Smalls Gallery.

A passionate team of local creatives, who shared the visionary energy of SWELL were now involved in developing the exhibition along with the founders and the kids education program was initiated, music was introduced on the weekends and SWELL’s team of loyal volunteers was growing!

Artist awards were introduced such as the Environmental Awareness Award, Emerging Artist Award and the Gold Coast City Council Acquisition, which has led to a sculpture trail around the coast with SWELL works a predominant portion of this trail.

In 2006, a spectacular lantern parade closed SWELL Sculpture Festival following a series of interactive lantern making workshops. This memorable and spectacular event was a watershed for sculpture making and art presentation.

In the style of Christo, workshops were delivered in 2007 to encourage large scale audience participation through kite making. An overwhelming installation, high in the sky took place with hundreds of kites fluttering along Currumbin Beach.

Late 2007 brought a change in direction with founder and curator Natasha Edwards joining forces with newly appointed Director and Creative Producer Ruth Della.

Together with the SWELL team, the shared passion to encapsulate the interconnectedness of people, art and place was now even higher on the agenda to attract high calibre artists, nurture emerging artists and building greater art appreciation in the community.

The inaugural SWELL Public Art Forum launched in 2008 and creative conversations were now underway in the city to keenly discuss perspectives and ideas of public art and public space. The Forum continued until 2012 with renowned keynote speakers such as Queensland Architect at the time Philip Follent, Jay Younger, Nicole Voevodin Cash, Jason Nelson, Dev Lengjel, Erica Gray, Yellow Goat Design to name a few. The interchange with artists who work within the public realm continues today in a varied format with Conversations on the Couch during SWELL. The re-introduction of a formal forum occurred  for SWELL’s 15th Anniversary in 2017.

Building on its incredible understanding of community installations and using its unique resourcefulness, a new major installation would flourish during SWELL 2009. Environmental Artist Lynne Adams was engaged to make flowers from recycled PET bottles with over 1000 local students. The Flower Power installation on Currumbin Rock was the culmination of building expertise and capacity in its education program to empower connection with art and place with significant community art projects. This project would go on to provide inspiration for future collaborative installations.

From this time, the dynamic experiences, organisational capacity and clever collaborations have seen SWELL expand beyond it signature annual exhibition to curating public art installations and activations across the Gold Coast and beyond.

Most recently this included the 2015 and 2016 Poppy Art Project, a sculptural installation of 5,000 crimson poppies crafted from 10,000 recycled PET bottles, imparting an emotional and powerful visual metaphor of blood, sweat and tears of Gallipoli.  Their ingenuity has also facilitated a giant inflatable octopus by UK artist Filthy Luker poking out of a highrise hotel in the centre of Surfers Paradise as part of the Sand Safari Art Festival.

Other highlights have included connecting art, people and place through the 2010 Bush to Beach and 2011 Cape to Coast projects, each bringing children from remote communities to SWELL, connecting them with local children and discovering art through workshops.

Now one of Queensland’s major cultural events, SWELL has played a key role in telling the cultural story of the Gold Coast through the widely used stunning imagery of sculptures set against the backdrop of the Gold Coast skyline.

Nineteen years on SWELL continues to connect people, art, and place.


Image: Andy Scott Arabesque Photography Paul Ewart