This article traces a brief history and identifies some achievements.
In 2006, the United Nations convention concluded that the rights of persons with disabilities should include the right to participate in cultural life. Malta’s accession to the EU introduced socio-political changes and presented opportunities for projects and networking. Working at St James’ Cavalier, Toni Attard applied for funding under the education and cultural arm of the European Union, the Grundtvig lifelong learning stream, for a project entitled Opening Doors: Developing learning disabled people’s participation in the arts across Europe, 2007-2009.
Lou Ghirlando was invited to collaborate as artistic director, responsible for setting up a theatre group of actors with intellectual disabilities and facilitating the creation of a performance at a festival to be hosted by the three successful partner countries: Belgium, UK and Malta. The second Grundtvig Learning Partnership, 2013-2015 was titled ART-is: Inclusion and Self-development of adults with learning disabilities through the ARTs. The aim of both projects was to create more opportunities for cultural and creative activities, offering a positive image of learning disability to audiences and raising the profile of the contribution group members can make to their communities. Criteria included the sharing of practice, mobility and dissemination. To this end, the theatre group of Opening Doors Malta held weekly workshops and annual performances in Valletta, occasionally touring to other European countries to share practice and perform, accompanied by parents/carers and selected artist practitioners.
By 2012, OD was formally established as a registered voluntary organisation (VO); an autonomous, non-governmental, not-for-profit association. It continues to work in collaboration with SJC and Teatru Salesjan, yet also provides training services at Day Centres, Agenzija Zghazagh, Wardija Young Adult Education and Resource Centre and Skola Sajf.
In the last six years, Opening Doors has hosted a European Disability Festival (June 2015)with Fondazzjoni Kreattitivà; initiated World Disability Day activities; developed two new groups for Dance and Music; signed a collaborative agreement with Teatru Salesjan;produced a number of integrated performances, and established a new Music group in Gozo. The organisation was awarded three-year Cultural Partnership funding in 2016 and has become a leading national organisation for the performing arts for adults (18+) with learning disabilities. Today we have seven Theatre, Dance and Music groups totalling 65+ members, led by Artistic Director Sandra Mifsud and facilitated by 13 Theatre, Dance and Music artists working as leaders or assistants.
2018 was an extremely busy 10th birthday year for OD; we won Project in the Community award at ACM Premju għall-Arti for Aħdar id-Deżert, featuring 33 integrated performers. Summer performances were presented at Teatru Salesjan in April, and two Open Air Jams were held in May. A special Ensemble work for Valletta 2018, The Secret, was performed at a Disability festival in Leeds, with three performances at the VCT in Valletta. In addition, in October we shared a 10th anniversary visit from 30 members of OD Belgium, and in December, published our first book, Opening Doors to the Performing Arts: Difference and Diversity.
In 2019 we celebrate 11 busy years with a new 20-minute documentary, a new Artistic Director and many more new initiatives. Come and see our Collective performances at Teatru Salesjan on the 4th and 5th May. Justin Spiteri is one of the members, taking part as an actor and a dancer, and in his role as an OD board member, he represented us at Premju għall Arti. As he said on the red carpet, ‘I am very proud I am part of a team and member of Opening Doors Malta’.
For more info on OD visit www.openingdoors.org.mt.
Written by Prof Jo Butterworth, Opening Doors President.
Photo by Brian Slater.