Working to their strengths | Sandra Mifsud

We speak to Sandra Mifsud, the new Artistic Director of Opening Doors, an NGO which seeks to help people with learning disabilities by engaging them in creative activities like dance and drama.

Sandra Mifsud (centre) teaching Opening Doors participants
Sandra Mifsud (centre) teaching Opening Doors participants

What are some of the most important tenets of Opening Doors that you aim to safeguard and build upon?

Opening Doors exists to enable adults with learning difficulties in Malta to have the opportunity to attend classes and receive training in the artistic sector under the guidance of a professional practitioner. Training and classes are currently led by professionals in the fields of theatre and dance. In the coming years I would like to see Opening Doors trying to widen these possibilities to include more students in our training programmes, and perhaps include more art forms in our schedules.

What would you say have been some of the most significant achievements of Opening Doors over the past few years?

Opening Doors has a key role in building public awareness of the contribution that adults with learning difficulties can make to the artistic sector. This is done primarily with the engagement of professionals in the various artistic fields. So far, we have tapped into the fields of theatre, dance and photography. Soon up next is music and voice.

Opening Doors creates its own artistic projects and programmes where learners are prepared by arts practitioners to promote and perform these works in established spaces like St James Cavalier. Over the past year, Opening Doors learners, volunteers and engaged artists have been privileged to travel overseas including Iceland, Spain, Germany, Turkey, Belgium, India, Poland and more. These trips often include opportunities to perform, and also attend seminars, conferences, workshops and fora where Maltese delegates would meet, exchange ideas and learn through engaging with international European and non-European counterparts.

What will be some of the key priorities for you to tackle in the coming months?

Both the dance and drama groups are currently preparing for the Art-Is Festival taking place in June 2015. This festival is a culmination of two projects that Opening Doors Malta has been involved in over the past year: Art-Is and Creative Ways are both Grundtvig Funded projects. Both the drama teacher, Anna Formosa, as well as myself, work with creative ideas and narratives developed together with the whole group. Projects are often collaborative. Such ways of working are very interesting and organic however could require more rehearsal time.

Could you give us a bit of a glimpse into the kind of dance programmes you engage in? In what direct and obvious ways would they differ from a more ‘conventional’ programme?

The organisation focuses on providing learners with training opportunities to develop artistic skills that would manifest in expressions of artistic qualities. The dance sessions are in no way different from conventional programmes. Our learners are currently attending ballet classes with Alison White and contemporary/creative movement with myself. Sessions host up to 11 learners.

With a group of this size we normally ensure to have between one to five learning assistants to ensure effectiveness, individual and specialised attention. Obviously, the number of learning assistants vary depending on the group and the availability of volunteers but part from this, processes are the same. We give a lot of attention to discipline and correct understanding of or approach to exercises. Exercises or tasks might be creative/improvisational or didactic/mimetic.

What kind of clear benefits does your work have on your members and participants, and how do you hope to build on that in the near future?

I always like to work collaboratively and leave a lot of space for participants to have a ‘say’ and space to contribute to the work. I think this approach allows participants to shine and work with their strengths. However this year, after one year that the group has been training, we are working with some more attention to detail and quality of movement as well as technique.

Our aim is that performers present themselves and the work at a good performative standard on stage so that they can enjoy the experience of performance, feel a sense of growth and find themselves and their own self-expression through the artform.