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Arts Access Australia | Regional Grant Recipient Talks About Meeting Place 2018

This September two Northern Rivers arts workers Jeremy Hawkes and Suzanne Whiteman received travel grants from Arts Access Australia to attend Meeting Place 2018 in Alice Springs from 24 to 26 September.
Meeting Place is Australia’s leading forum on arts, culture and disability, with a three-day program presenting a dynamic fusion of national and international speakers, exhibitions and performances, artists-in-residence and practical workshops. This year was the first time the event was held in regional Australia, after being established in 2012 to build stronger linkages and collaboration between arts and disability stakeholders.
As a part of receiving their travel grant, Jeremy and Suzanne were committed to return the knowledge they gained from the experience back to the Northern Rivers. We had a chat to Jeremy about his experience and the importance of regional artists being a part of the arts, culture and disability conversation.

What was the biggest thing you took away from your experience at Meeting Place?

My dirty laundry…just kidding. Without a doubt and in all sincerity, the biggest thing I took away from Meeting Place was a strong sense of belonging and community. These people are my peers, colleagues and friends. I was so delighted to be finally able to meet so many artists of all sorts and from all over the country who I had heard of or been following for years. The sense of connection and recognition was both immediate and profound. Disability often isolates as does living regionally. It was so rewarding and supportive to be amongst people who ‘got it.’ I didn’t need to explain, hide my disability, be careful of what I said or how I may appear… or feel misplaced.
Straight away we formed a Facebook group for creatives with disability – ‘Cack’ – as a way of keeping in touch, sharing stories, ideas, opportunities and to discuss politics, the arts and disability sector, provide support, laugh, challenge ourselves and each other. It has grown exponentially and become a significant resource and has attracted over 300 members already!

How important do you think it is for regional artists and arts workers to be involved in conversations like those at Meeting Place?

It cannot be overstated. The regional experience, like the disability experience, is often overlooked or becomes tokenistic in the broader arts community. Cultural production is often urban-centric and its challenging for regional artists to feel part of the broader conversation, let alone attend events on a regular basis. The fact that Meeting Place was held in Alice Springs was in itself quite significant and a very important decision that the organisers made.

What are some of the challenges that you took away from Meeting Place that we still need to work on as an arts sector?

There are so many. Dedicated and secure funding for artists with disability on both a federal and state/territory level, and how do creatives with disability engage with the broader cultural context beyond tokenism…or the happy-clappy community arts model? What does real inclusion actually look like? What is our ideal future? How can we ensure disability-led practice is both understood and actually practiced not only by arts organisations but within the disability sector itself? How do we best support each other whilst engaging fully in our creative endeavours? I could go on and on…

Where to now? How do you intend to share your experience with your local community, and were there any outcomes for you?

I have made friends for life and I am incredibly excited about the future, both short and long term. I think that collectively we came upon some real similarities of experience that led to an identification of what WE need/want and not be told what it is we need. There has been a review and consultation process recently of the National Arts and Disability Strategy which is amazing timing because it has given us the chance to address these concerns with some immediacy. In terms of personal outcomes, I really have made friends for life and potential collaborators abound. So much has come from Meeting Place already, there is a real momentum behind what has been discussed. I have been working with the incredible Sue Whiteman who has just received funding to attend a conference and to hold workshops locally in response. That’s fantastic. I have been lucky/fortunate enough to have been awarded a Create NSW Fellowship and will be off next year to New York and Berlin for study, residencies, conferences and the chance to meet other artists with disability from around the world. We have so many ideas and plans.
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