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Deborah Caulfield's in-the-moment impression of the Unlimited dicussion 'Just Look What We Started' / 2 September 2012

Loosely painted portrait of Nabil Shaban who set up Graeae Theatre Company

Tanya Raabe's painting of Nabil Shaban which is on display in The Festival of the World Museum in the Spirit Level, RFH. Photo © Tanya Raabe

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'Just Look What We Started' was the first in a series of discussions on disability, art. labels and life in the Royal Festival Hall.

Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, kicks off with a personal reflection on Unlimited, ‘a triumph for team work.’

She says it has been a joy to see that what has emerged is (with no apology for using this word, although she knows it has been criticised) an extraordinary body of work.

I’m thinking: From ‘special’ to ‘extraordinary’ is a tiny step in the right direction. The giant leap will be the one that goes from extraordinary to ordinary.

Back in the 1980s, as with many new beginnings, the emergence of disability arts was a mix of circumstances and confidence, politics and personalities.

Names are dropping all over: Ian Stanton, Johnny Crescendo and Julie Macnamara. Jenny Sealey is here, and Sarah Scott; back then they worked together in a place called The Workhouse.

Jude Kelly says Margaret Thatcher’s viciousness helped fuel the movement. Someone mentions Nabil Shaban.

Call me a spoilt brat, but I’m longing to be watching a documentary film or slick presentation, with the main events well described and nicely illustrated, pulling out the principles and key players, with juicy sound-bites and stunning footage.

Here, I’m losing track of this fascinating but somewhat disjointed reminiscence session.

A picture is shown but the screen is too small and too far away.

Things look up when Tony Heaton highlights the importance of the social model. I send a tweet: The Social model + anger = power.

Comments from the audience include this from Caroline Bowditch: in Australia disability arts is still run by non-disabled people. She says she’s glad to be working in the UK and thanks us for having her.

A man from Sri Lanka talks about the lack of development opportunities there for deaf and disabled artists, and multi marginalisation on cultural and religious grounds.

Another Aussie asks: How can (you) disabled people convince non-disabs to share their power? Tony says you have to wrest it from them.

Jenny Sealey agrees, adding: We have to constantly prove our worth, even when we have the power.


Keywords: art,disability art,disability arts festival,nabil shaban,power