This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

Looking forwards, looking back. / 26 February 2012

Ian Stanton sings and plays guitar, with a BSL interpretor.

Ian Stanton, South Street Arts Centre, Reading, July 1996

Zoom in to this image and read text description

I have an excellent week ahead, gorging on art, including theatre, music and painting. It surely doesn't get better than this. I just hope I find time for meals.

On Tuesday 28th February I’m going to see1 Beach Road at South Street Arts Centre, Reading.

South Street holds a few memories for me; this one’s the best:

In 1996, as a keen and fearless community development worker, I organised a strangely controversial disability arts cabaret here.

The line-up was impressive for our little show. The late, great and supremely wonderful Ian Stanton headlined, superbly supported by Genie Cosmos with Fish Out of Water, and the gently challenging and truthful poet Peter Street.

100 people, nearly all disabled, crammed into the main hall. We had two BSL interpreters, and free food was provided.

Free transport brought people from all four corners of Berkshire, not without a few hiccups, including mislaid passengers and a few disgruntled late arrivals.

Incredibly, the cabaret almost didn’t happen.

My steering group, a majority of disabled people, was very nervous.  It was art, see. And fun.

A strong case against the event was mounted. Questions were raised.

Was it a good use of public money?

How would it impact on the design, planning and delivery of health and social care services?

Was this an appropriate or effective deployment of a user development worker? I certainly thought so!

I argued at the time that this was a good way to bring disabled people together, to empower them, to raise consciousness and expectations, and to help build a movement.

Fortunately, I had an enlightened CEO and the cabaret went ahead. Thanks Madeleine, wherever you are.

So the event wasn’t just accessible, it was subversive. It was social model without theory. It was empowerment without flipchart.

Don’t get me wrong. Although I love Disability Equality Training, both delivering and participating,  nothing hits the spot, or does the job, like having a good time together.

Of all the events I've organised since, I never quite managed to top this one.


Keywords: access issues,art,cabaret,consiousness raising,disability art,disability equality training,disabled people's movement,empowerment,genie cosmos,ian stanton,peter street,public money,social model,south street arts centre,user groups


Tony Heaton

18 March 2012

wonderful to be reminded of the late,great singer and song-writer Ian Stanton, a proper northerner, ditto Peter Street who is still writing great poetry. these events helped to define the notion of disability arts and now looking back were very important milestones in our collective history. particularly poignent as we at Shape populate the chronology of disability arts with images and stories. thank you Deborah.

richard downes

26 February 2012

hefre in brent we used to do this on an annnual basis. Always coincided it to meet with the international day of disabled people. People still talk about the different gigs that happens over the last 21 years. Arts add to our days, add to our AGM's. They lift what would otherwise be a mundane experience. Our faves were clair lewis, johnny crescendo, sound minds, chas de swiet and his avant garde stripper friend but there were loads of others. We have not been able to afford to do this for awhile so we have replaced it with games playing. Famous Crips, Political gaffes. that sort of thing. I guess we are ina time where the fame is compromised and the gaffes grow. Thanks for the memories

Add a comment

Please leave your comments. They will display when submitted. DAO encourages critical feedback, but please be considerate. DAO reserves the right to edit or remove comments that don't comply with our editorial policy, which you can find on DAOs 'About' pages.

Your e-mail address will not be revealed to the public.
HTML is forbidden, but line-breaks will be retained.
This can be a URL of an image or a YouTube, MySpaceTV or a Flickr page (we'll handle the media embedding from there!)
This is to prevent automatic submissions.