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Peter Greco: One of the big events that happens as far as Arts Access Australia goes is Meeting Place, it’s on again this year and, you guessed it, it’s going to be just a little bit different but nevertheless very very important. Matthew Hall is the CEO for Arts Access Australia, and he’s on the line. Matthew, great to meet you.

Matthew Hall: And you Peter, thanks for having me.

Peter: Now as I said this is a big event, and a time honoured event, we’ve spoken about it over the years on this program and it’s on again this year, in fact next month.

Matthew: It is indeed, it’s happening on the 15th and 16th of September, but because of COVID-19 we’ve had to move to an entirely online program for the first time, which creates I think some wonderful opportunities as well as some interesting challenges for us.

P: I guess in one sense you’ve had a little bit of time to prepare for this, probably a fair way out you’ve known that it wasn’t going to be the conventional Meeting Place?

M: Yes, that’s right. Sadly it was to take place in Brisbane, in conjunction with the Undercover Artists’ Festival later this year, but we’ve all been thrown into somewhat of a cocked hat I suppose but yes, we’ve been preparing for it, and I think it will be an excellent program and I think it will be really interesting to see how we can help people see the ways in which you can include accessibility, and achieve universal access in an online environment.

P: Yeah, a lot of people have been doing that lately haven’t they, with all sort of events and things.

M: They have indeed!

P: Tell us a little bit about the event this year then, what’s the theme and what’s the sort of focus and how’s it all going to play out, do you feel?

M: So this year the forum will be created under the theme “Creating Space”, and whilst the online space is an important part of the program and certainly a key part of its delivery, we’re not going to be limited to looking at how artists and arts workers with disability can create space in an online environment but we’ll interrogate ways of creating space in different environments, and for different purposes, whether that’s in terms of community or personally or online or in the political space.

P: Who should be thinking about coming along?

M: I think anyone who has an interest in arts and disability in Australia, certainly any arts workers and artists with disability, any organisations who engage with artists or arts workers with disability or with audiences with disability, in previous years we’ve also had arts and cultural leaders from major cultural organisations and local and national government bodies and the Australia Council for the Arts, but it really is the forum for artists and arts workers to build links and collaborate with their peers and meet. In a sense socialise, which is a little bit of a strange thing to say online, in an online environment, but to meet their peers and talk about the issues that are of concern to them.

P: So how will it run, often with conferences like this you might have concurrent sessions and then you have morning and afternoon teas and catch up times, what about with Meeting Place coming up this September on the 15th and 16th?

M: We’ve thought about the format very carefully and we’ve taken a lot of advice from people who are very experienced in the online format, and we need to ensure that our audience don’t get tired or are unable to interact with the medium because of sustained exposure. We don’t want people sitting in front of screens for extended periods of time and it is also a challenge to have people interact in a large attendee online environment. So what we’re planning to do is we won’t have any concurrent sessions, over the 2 days however there will be a number of sessions but each session will be separated by a large break. There’ll be a session in the morning followed by a long break, then a session in early afternoon and a break, a session in the late afternoon and a break, and then a session in the evening. The program doesn’t start until at least 11am on each of the days because of the different time zones in Australia, and we have to ensure that we accommodate everyone to be able to access it at a reasonable time, so it will go from 11 I think in the morning until 9pm at night AEST, and the evening events will be more social and relaxed or feature an art form as opposed to a discussion or a panel or a presentation which will occur during the day.

P: So Matthew there’ll be a chance for people to interact with the presenters?

M: In most of the panels or presentations yes, in some of the keynote speeches that are given rather than panel discussions there might be more limited ability to interact, but we will still try to have some interaction which may be on the basis of asking people to submit any questions that they have prior to the event, but certainly on the panel discussions and in the disability led forum that will occur, that will be all about interaction by the participants. The other thing I should mention is that this year for the first time we’re launching an online magazine as part of Meeting Place, and we’ve just put out a call for work by deaf and disabled writers to be published within that online magazine as part of Meeting Place 2020, so if anyone who’s listening is wanting to submit any poetry or flash fiction or a short story or non-fiction, then they can go to the Meeting Place website and find out all about it. Submissions I think are due on the 2nd of September.

P: So we’ll actually be chatting with some of the other people involved with Meeting Place over the next few weeks as the event comes along, but in the meantime if people want to register there’s a process to go through obviously so you know who’s going to be there and have a bit of an idea of the audience that you’ll be presenting to?

M: Yes, so people can register at meetingplaceforum.org, the program hasn’t yet been released but it will be released very very shortly, but in the meantime you can still register your interest and then will receive information about the process to register for the forum. So that’s meetingplaceforum.org.

P: Terrific, Matthew I imagine you’d have a pretty good chance of international people logging in or Zooming in or whatever the correct term is.

M: Yeah, I mean certainly every cloud has a silver lining and I think one of the great benefits of moving to an entirely online environment is that very issue that we can increase our exposure to a wider audience. But it also makes it a lot easier in many senses to attract high calibre very well-known international participants as guests or speakers, because there’s no international travel involved and there’s no hotels and accommodation and flights and all those sorts of things, they can be in their living room in London or Berlin or New York and still participate in our conference, so that I think is very exciting.

P: Yeah it sounds very exciting and as I said it’s an event we’ve enjoyed chatting about over the past and we look forward to speaking with some of the participants in the next few weeks and in the meantime just give us that website again if people want to register, I guess the sooner they do the better, and obviously you keep an eye on that website when information about the program comes out as well.

M: Absolutely, so it’s meetingplaceforum.org, there’s no .au it’s just a .org domain name so meetingplaceforum.org, and I must say thank you Peter for your continued interest and support, it’s very much appreciated.

P: No we’ve enjoyed it, there’s been some great things that have come out of it, there’s people I’ve spoken to after the event and they’ve really got plenty out of it so I’m sure this year will be no different – well, it’ll be a little bit different!

M: It will be, but you know, change is good sometimes!

P: And to be a little bit flexible is also good.

M: Absolutely.

P: Terrific, good to catch up Matthew.

M: And you, thank you Peter.

P: That was Matthew Hall there, talking about Meeting Place, so meetingplaceforum.org if you’d like to find out more.