WE'RE GLAD YOU'RE HERE!
Welcome! We invite you to learn more about Open Door Arts: who we are, what we do, and most importantly, why we do it. We hope you'll join us in working to increase access, participation, and representation in the arts by people with disabilities.
We believe our shared cultural community is strengthened when it represents, includes, and engages all people.
We work annually with more than 3,000 students, teaching artists, educators and leaders of cultural organizations through innovative and inclusive programming, training, events, and exhibits designed to improve access, expand participation, challenge the status quo, and share practices to ensure equitable representation by people with disabilities in the arts.
Access to and participation in the arts are fundamental human rights that should be available to everyone. Engaging in the arts allows us to express our most profound thoughts and emotions,
share our stories, and explore the common humanity that unites us all."
- Nicole Agois Hurel, Managing Director
Open Door Arts believes our diverse perspectives, experiences, backgrounds, and identities strengthen us and our organization. We are committed to ensuring that all of our staff, students, artists, and constituents feel welcomed, actively included, valued, and encouraged to be their authentic selves.
Open Door Arts has been learning, growing, and building alongside the disability community through some of its most significant and transformative decades. As we celebrate our accomplishments over the past 40 years, we invite you to join us in imagining and designing our collective future.
In 1974 President Kennedy’s sister, Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, founded the National Committee Arts for the Handicapped as part of the Kennedy Center to honor her brother’s commitment to the arts and to people with disabilities. This organization would continue to grow into an international network of affiliates working to promote access in the arts for people with disabilities.
Our organization was incorporated in 1980, when Maida S. Abrams founded the Massachusetts Committee Arts for the Handicapped, the local affiliate of the National Committee Arts for the Handicapped located in Washington, D.C. The National Committee and its affiliates (including us) later changed our names to Very Special Arts, and eventually VSA.
CHANGING THE FIELD
With the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, a new area of advocacy and access emerged. VSA MA brought visibility to the arts and disability by hosting an International Festival of Wheelchair Dance in collaboration with Dance Umbrella. We also shared knowledge and best practices by training teams in 26 states to survey arts organizations about accessibility to compile a national database, and by publishing the Multi-Arts Resource Guide, an arts-integrated curriculum guide for educators. In recognition of our programs, we were awarded the Mass Cultural Council Commonwealth Award in 1997.
LEADING THE WAY
With funding from Mass Cultural Council, we ran the Cultural Access Mini-Grant program, which awarded seed funds to arts and culture organizations, leading the way to some of the most innovative access programs in the state. In 2004 we hosted the International Deaf Theater Festival in Boston, and in 2009, we increased visibility to our work and artists with disabilities by moving into the NonProfit Center and opening the Open Door Gallery, Boston. We also continued to contribute to research and publications on Universal Design for Learning and the arts.
We launched a more robust and integrated model for our school programs, and called it COOL Schools (Creative Outlook on Learning). In 2014, VSA MA became an affiliate of Seven Hills Foundation. Our affiliation created opportunities for individuals served by Seven Hills to participate in the arts and provided us with new ways to expand our work, which included opening the Open Door Gallery @ WAM (Worcester Art Museum) and hosting the Arts and the Brain Symposium.
We entered a new decade with a new name: Open Door Arts and celebrated 40 years of advancing inclusion in the arts! The Mass Cultural Council presented us with the Universal Participation Community Asset Award in 2020 to recognize our history of impact in the field.
Our staff and advisors bring a depth of perspectives, lived experiences, and expertise in the areas of arts, education, and disability - which are united through a common passion and commitment to this important work.
Nicole Agois, Ed.M.
Portia Brown, Ed.M., M.A.
Director of Operations
Mehdi Raoufi, M.A.
Director of School Programs
Maureen "Moe" Finnerty
Professional Development Consultant
Cultural Access and Inclusion Specialist
Board of Advisors
- Jeremy Alliger Alliger Arts Executive Producer
- Moe Finnerty Consultant and Trainer
- Elaine Fallon Educational Consultant
- Robin Foley Seven Hills Foundation
- Thomas Keane Concord Carlisle School District
- Martha McKenna Lesley University
- Ruth Mercado-Zizzo EdVestors
- Carl Richardson Massachusetts State House
- Heather Watkins Writer and Advocate
The Cultural Equity Incubator is on the first floor of the Midway Artist Studio Building.
Please enter the building through the front door where there is a lift (dimensions: 36" by 54"). Once you reach the main floor take a left down the hallway, Studio 103 is right past the media lab, with the Incubator door on the right.
There are two gender neutral and accessible bathrooms on the first floor, nearby the Cultural Equity Incubator entrance.
Please note: there are push buttons on the doors to the bathroom but not to the Incubator itself. Incubator community members are happy to support with the door, please knock, or call, for our attention.
We care about your experience! Please contact if you have access-related questions or requests.