MCEC reinvents space during event freeze

From film studios with Liam Neeson, to training Guide Dogs, the venue is being put to good use.

MCEC closed its doors in March, but continues to explore new ways to contribute to the community.
MCEC closed its doors in March, but continues to explore new ways to contribute to the community.

Coronavirus restrictions have seen Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) explore new ways to use its spaces, including the filming of a Hollywood blockbuster starring Liam Neeson, and the training of Victorian Guide Dogs.

MCEC closed its doors in March due to the pandemic, but as a major contributor to the Victorian economy, the venue has been exploring new ways to contribute to the community.

“Even with the impacts of the pandemic, we contributed AU$740 million in economic impact to the state last financial year, and a further $1.1 billion the year prior,” MCEC chief executive, Peter King, said.

“We can play an important role in the state’s economic recovery by using our spaces in new ways, both to bring jobs back to the city and support the wider community.”

One example of using the enormous venue’s space differently includes as a film studio — an idea that was originally floated as part of an innovative new idea-generating ‘hackathon’ held by MCEC in August called ‘Unconventional Ideas’.

Since that event, MCEC has been working with the Victorian screen industry, and is now hosting the production of a major Hollywood film called Blacklight, starring Liam Neeson. Directed by Mark Williams (co-creator of Ozark and director of box-office success Honest Thief), the production is expected to bring more than 500 local jobs for cast and crew back to the local film sector.

As well as the economic benefit the venue is providing, MCEC is also supporting the community by providing Guide Dogs Victoria a safe, contained space and free-of-charge space to train Guide Dogs. This will ensure people with low vision or blindness can continue to receive essential services during restrictions.

“We have an environment that is accessible and safe for the community to continue to work to their needs,” King said. “In these unpredictable times we need to pull together as a community and be resourceful, and we are looking for opportunities to make sure our wonderful space is being utilised.”

Guide Dogs Victoria CEO, Karen Hayes, thanked the venue for allowing the organisation to "continue to provide essential services to clients and train life-changing Guide Dogs during this lockdown".

She added: "We know that our clients have felt significant isolation and an increasing loss of confidence, as the restrictions continued.  We are incredibly grateful to MCEC for working creatively with us to get people back on track to be confident and independent again.”

Looking ahead, MCEC has already installed new virtual event studios and technologies for hybrid and online events, and in the pipeline are opportunities to use the building for safe and physically-distanced entertainment and events that may support the heavily affected hospitality, cinema and arts industries.