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VSA Massachusetts, Inc., an affiliate of Seven Hills Foundation, Inc.

 The NonProfit Center, 89 South Street, Suite 101
 Boston, MA 02111
[P] (617) 350-7713 x 102
[F] --
Nicole Agois
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 Printable Profile (Summary / Full)
EIN 91-1969322

LAST UPDATED: 01/23/2019
Organization DBA --
Former Names VSA Arts of Massachusetts (2012)
Very Special Arts Massachusetts (1985)
Organization received a competitive grant from the Boston Foundation in the past five years Yes


Mission StatementMORE »

VSA Massachusetts promotes the involvement of people of all abilities in the cultural life of our communities. Our programs serve thousands of people of all ages and abilities through groundbreaking and effective statewide programs in three program areas: Education (COOL Schools), the Open Door Gallery, and Cultural Inclusion. We work with teachers and students, parents and school administrators. We also work with artists, cultural organizations and people advocating for the rights of people with disabilities.

Mission Statement

VSA Massachusetts promotes the involvement of people of all abilities in the cultural life of our communities. Our programs serve thousands of people of all ages and abilities through groundbreaking and effective statewide programs in three program areas: Education (COOL Schools), the Open Door Gallery, and Cultural Inclusion. We work with teachers and students, parents and school administrators. We also work with artists, cultural organizations and people advocating for the rights of people with disabilities.

FinancialsMORE »

Fiscal Year July 01, 2018 to June 30, 2019
Projected Income $598,707.00
Projected Expense $640,299.00

ProgramsMORE »

  • COOL Schools
  • Cultural Inclusion
  • Open Door Gallery

Revenue vs. Expense ($000s)

Expense Breakdown 2017 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2016 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2015 (%)

For more details regarding the organization's financial information, select the financial tab and review available comments.


Mission Statement

VSA Massachusetts promotes the involvement of people of all abilities in the cultural life of our communities. Our programs serve thousands of people of all ages and abilities through groundbreaking and effective statewide programs in three program areas: Education (COOL Schools), the Open Door Gallery, and Cultural Inclusion. We work with teachers and students, parents and school administrators. We also work with artists, cultural organizations and people advocating for the rights of people with disabilities.

Background Statement

VSA Massachusetts (VSA MA) is a leader in an international network of VSA organizations serving the United States and over 50 other nations. VSA was founded at the time that the national center for the performing arts was dedicated to President John F. Kennedy and is affiliated with The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Originally known as the National Committee Arts for the Handicapped and formerly named Very Special Arts, VSA changed its name in 1999, eliminating the use of the word "special" to honor the progress made by members of the disability community since the organization's inception. VSA MA was incorporated in 1980 and has been advancing access to arts, culture and learning by people with disabilities for over 30 years.

Our early work in education focused on supporting learning in and through the arts by students in special education. As we grew and schools became more inclusive, our focus on advocacy and awareness turned to developing understanding and strategies to support inclusive school communities. For our contribution to education in Massachusetts we were awarded the Commonwealth Award in 1997. In the past five years our school programs have been featured in national publications including "The Contours of Inclusion" and "Universal Design for Learning in the Classroom", and highlighted at national and international conferences. In 2010, Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith recognized us for our outstanding work in professional development.

Supporting access to cultural venues and developing the careers of artists with disabilities was the primary focus of our early work in cultural inclusion. In the late 1990’s, with support from the US Department of Commerce, VSA MA led a national initiative to identify accessible cultural facilities, promote access improvements and cultivate new inclusive programming. In 1998, we developed an Inclusive by Design (IbD) concert with funding from the National Endowment of the Arts. In these programs a new type of ensemble is formed involving musicians, 
visual artists, 
both Deaf and hearing American Sign Language interpreters, 
audio describers 
and captioners. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) distributed a training video we created on the concept to arts councils throughout the country. In the past five years, we have partnered with major cultural institutions to enhance access and produced four IbD concerts. Through the Open Door Gallery, we have shared the work of over 50 artists with disabilities with approximately 5,000 gallery visitors.

Impact Statement

- Launched COOL Schools program to increase the sustainability and impact of our inclusive arts learning programs by training teachers to implement inclusive arts integration in their classrooms. Developed and piloted four workshops to train educators in arts-integrated inclusive strategies, which were fully enrolled.  
- BPS Arts Expansion Fund awarded us $80,000 (second largest award given to an arts organization this year) to implement COOL at six Boston partner schools.
- Publication of “Universal Design for Learning in the Classroom” (Guilford Press). VSA MA Education Program Manager Kati Blair Kotrc co-authored Chapter 8, “The Arts Option”, which highlights our work at the Henderson Inclusion Elementary School.
- Significantly increased the quality and visibility of exhibits and related events at the Open Door Gallery. 
- VSA MA will co-host the LEAD (Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability) Conference on August 21-24 in Boston.

- Increase professional development and coaching for teachers in partner schools
- Increase professional development for educators outside the schools by doubling professional development offerings and providing one-on-one follow-up coaching from teaching artists.
- Triple our individual giving revenue by the end of FY’ 13 through implementation of new fundraising strategy.
- Sustain and increase participation of cultural organizations in Cultural Access New England (CANE) by offering professional development to staff at cultural organizations.
- Establish collaborative relationships with other community organizations to identify new artists with disabilities and promote their work through the Open Door Gallery and other venues.

Needs Statement

Capacity Needs:
-Recruit additional and diverse board members with interest and expertise in education, disability, marketing and social media.
-Recruit highly qualified and diverse teaching artists with significant experience in arts integration, collaboration with teachers, and supporting the needs of students of all abilities.
Financial Needs: 
-Secure at least $80,000 in additional funding to balance our budget and halt the decrease in net assets in FY '13. (VSA MA has been reliant on government support through the VSA Home Office, designated by Congress as agents to support Arts in Education at the US Department of Education. In 2011, this funding was reduced by more than half. Having a strong balance sheet, VSA MA has sustained the recent losses by making investments from working capital reserves and developed strategic and individual fundraising plans.)

CEO Statement

Through the arts, we are breaking new ground. For people with disabilities, the arts represent a world of resources and opportunities. Artistic expression provides an outlet for the creative voice and unlimited possibilities for personal, academic, and professional success. By engaging in the arts, people with disabilities are able to contribute to our workplaces and communities, help extinguish old stereotypes regarding disabilities, and create a global culture truly representative of all people.

VSA MA reaches approximately 10,000 people annually through groundbreaking and effective statewide programs in Education, Cultural Inclusion, and through the Open Door Gallery. 

Board Chair Statement


Geographic Area Served


Our current COOL Schools programs serve students in Boston (East Boston, South Boston, Dorchester, Brighton and Mattapan), Chestnut Hill, Worcester and Gardner.
The Open Door Gallery is located in downtown Boston and serves artists based locally and in New England. 
Our Cultural Inclusion programs serve communities and cultural organizations statewide.

Organization Categories

  1. Arts,Culture & Humanities - Alliances & Advocacy
  2. Education - Special Education
  3. Education - Elementary & Secondary Schools

Independent research has been conducted on this organization's theory of change or on the effectiveness of this organization's program(s)



COOL Schools

The COOL (Creative Outlook on Learning) Schools model provides students with a variety of ways to experience academic content, express what they know, and engage in learning.  COOL teaching artists collaborate with classroom teachers to introduce strategies inherent in the arts to include students of all abilities and support their learning in the arts as well as in other academic subjects. COOL teaching artists and classroom teachers co-create and co-teach instructional units, addressing Common Core Standards for both arts and academic content.


COOL builds the arts integration capacity of educators through professional development.  COOL teaching artists present workshops to introduce the entire school to the transformative power of the arts in instructional practice and inclusive school culture. Introductory workshops are also offered twice a year and are open to all educators.

Budget  $378,000.00
Category  Education, General/Other Special Education
Population Served Children and Youth (0 - 19 years) People/Families with of People with Disabilities At-Risk Populations
Program Short-Term Success 

- Partner teachers will report positive learning and social student outcomes

- New opportunities for inclusion of students with and without disabilities are provided at partner schools that are not already inclusive

- Teachers will increase their capacity to implement inclusive arts integration in their classrooms

- Through professional development and coaching, teaching artists will progress on competency scale from novice to coach

- Educators will learn inclusive arts integration strategies by attending COOL Professional Development workshops.

Program Long-Term Success 

- Students with disabilities across the state have opportunities to learn in and through the arts alongside their non-disabled peers.

- Teachers learn arts integration strategies to support learning and inclusion and implement them frequently and successfully in their classrooms.

Program Success Monitored By 

- Teacher, principal and teaching artist surveys are collected at the end of each school program and analyzed for student, teacher and school community outcomes.

- Student artwork and reflections are collected as evidence of learning

- Curriculum maps and planning forms completed by teaching artists with partner teachers track learning goals and objectives of each partnership

- Our “Closer Look at Learning” report followed 12 individual students in four programs to identify social and learning behaviors fostered by the program. Each session was videotaped, running records were taken and coded to identify behaviors.

Examples of Program Success 
Quotes from teachers and principals:

“The opportunity to engage in drama is so fascinating for me to see because there are students who do enjoy acting out different scenarios. Their personalities come out and shine in ways I wouldn't otherwise see in just a written response to literature.” - 2nd grade teacher


“I have never seen my students so engaged for a half an hour period.” - Kindergarten teacher


“Ideas were incorporated regularly into my curriculum. I do more group work and shared learning activities.” - 4th grade teacher.


“Our students with autism are exposed to several art forms and have been able to perform to their parents and school community. These performances have helped boost their self-confidence and their willingness to try new, challenging activities. The staff in turn, has been able to see that our students with autism could perform and learn a new art form just like our non disabled students can.” - Principal

Cultural Inclusion

VSA MA’s Cultural Inclusion programs support access by people of all abilities to cultural events and facilities in the following ways:


- Audience Development: We connect cultural organizations with accessible programs to audience members with access needs.

- Universal Design: We support cultural organizations to design programmatic, architectural, physical, communication, attitudinal and other forms of access.

- Career Support: We support people of all abilities to gain skills and employment in the creative economy and participate in cultural institutions.

- Inclusive by Design: A team of musicians, visual artists, American Sign Language interpreters, audio describers and captioners produce inclusive performances.


Budget  $80,000.00
Category  Arts, Culture & Humanities, General/Other Artists' Services
Population Served People/Families with of People with Disabilities Elderly and/or Disabled Adults
Program Short-Term Success 

- Cultural organizations progress on competency scale to create/provide inclusive programming

- Increased interest from cultural organizations to provide inclusive programming

Program Long-Term Success 

Cultural organizations throughout Massachusetts are fully committed and capable to meet the programmatic and physical access needs of all their visitors, regardless of ability.

Program Success Monitored By 

- Track numbers of inquiries for technical assistance, number organizations receiving support for audience development and number of organizations using Universal Design for program design

- Survey cultural organization participants

Examples of Program Success  VSA MA supported the presentation of GIMP, a dance performance by artists with missing limbs and other disabilities at the ICA two years ago. The ICA program manager asked the audience to raise their hands if it was the first time they attended a performance at the ICA. Approximately 70% of the audience raised their hands. This doesn’t only highlight the success of our work connecting people with access needs to accessible cultural facilities and events, but also the wide interest in performances by artists with disabilities.

Open Door Gallery

The Open Door Gallery supports and promotes the careers of approximately 35 visual artists with disabilities each year through exhibitions and events that share profound stories and dispel myths of ability. Located in downtown Boston, the Open Door Gallery is visited by over 1500 community members annually. 

Budget  $48,500.00
Category  Arts, Culture & Humanities, General/Other Artists' Services
Population Served People/Families with of People with Disabilities Elderly and/or Disabled Families
Program Short-Term Success 

- Exhibiting artists will meet or exceed their sales expectations

- Additional exhibition opportunities for artists as a result of exhibiting at ODG

Program Long-Term Success 

- The work of artists with disabilities is appreciated and valued by the community.

- Artists with disabilities have equal opportunities to create and exhibit their artwork as those without disabilities.

Program Success Monitored By 

- Track sales for each exhibit

- Surveys from exhibiting artists

- Tracking additional exhibit opportunities as a result of exhibiting at ODG

Examples of Program Success 

During the opening reception of Marguerite MacDonald’s show “Snow on the Brain”, which reflects her experience finding beauty in Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an audience member with MS was captivated by a painting called “Trying to Walk”. It was a painting of a naked woman with a blurred-out face. The audience member stood up and said, “Every person who is involved in my care should come and see this show. That paining, ‘Trying to Walk’ expresses exactly how I feel in a way that words cannot”.

In addition, after exhibiting his artwork at the VSA MA Open Door Gallery and being featured on The Boston Globe this past January, artist Jon Sarkin made a connection to exhibit his work at another gallery.

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments



CEO/Executive Director Ms. Nicole Agois
CEO Term Start Sept 2017
CEO Email
CEO Experience

Nicole Agois is a musician, educator, arts administrator and disability advocate who works at the intersection of arts, education and disability. As the Managing Director of VSA Massachusetts, the State Organization on Art and Disability, she oversees programs that provide inclusive arts-integrated instruction to 1500+ students, supports educators with inclusive arts teaching practices, and creates opportunities for people with disabilities to fully participate in the cultural life of their communities. For the past 12 years, she directed VSA MA's COOL Schools program, where she closely examined and contributed to research on the application of Universal Design for Learning in the Arts. She co-authored a case study on UDL in "The Contours of Inclusion: Inclusive Arts Teaching and Learning", and developed numerous professional development initiatives, professional learning communities and conferences on the subject. She served as a UDL curriculum reviewer for SchoolTalk in Washington, D.C., and as National Institute Faculty for VSA International.

In 2016 Nicole was selected as a member of the Leadership Council for Boston Creates, the cultural planning process for the city of Boston, where she contributed to conversations about equity and inclusion that were critical to the development of the plan. She currently serves on the Advisory Boards of the Berklee Institute for Arts Education and Special Needs, and the Adaptive Music Institute in Springfield, MA. Born and raised in Lima, Peru, Nicole received her Master of Education in Arts in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance from the Boston Conservatory.

Co-CEO --
Co-CEO Term Start --
Co-CEO Email --
Co-CEO Experience --

Former CEOs and Terms

Name Start End
Charles J Washburn Oct 2000 Sept 2017
Maida S. Abrams Mar 1980 Sept 2000

Senior Staff

Name Title Experience/Biography
Nicole Agois Hurel Director of COOL Schools --
Mia Branco COOL Schools Program Manager --
Portia Brown Director of Operations --
Jon Ezrin Business Manager --


Award Awarding Organization Year
Outstanding Professional Development Services VSA (Home Office) 2010
Champions of Arts Education Award (for partnership with Patrick O'Hearn School in Dorchester) Massachusetts Alliance for Arts Education 2007
COMMONWEALTH AWARD Massachusetts Cultural Council 1997


Affiliation Year
-- --
Member of state association of nonprofits? No
Name of state association --

External Assessments and Accreditations

External Assessment or Accreditation Year
-- --


Wheelock Family Theater
Boston Children’s Museum

Visual Communications Clearinghouse
Cultural Access New England (CANE)
MFA Boston
Museum of Science
John F. Kennedy Library and Museum
Boston Public Schools
Worcester Public Schools
Massachusetts Cultural Council
Lesley University
Boston Arts Consortium for Health (BACH)

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments


Foundation Comments


Staff Information

Number of Full Time Staff 3
Number of Part Time Staff 11
Number of Volunteers 10
Number of Contract Staff 3
Staff Retention Rate % 100%

Staff Demographics

Ethnicity African American/Black: 0
Asian American/Pacific Islander: 1
Caucasian: 11
Hispanic/Latino: 2
Native American/American Indian: 0
Other: 0
Other (if specified): 0
Gender Female: 11
Male: 3
Not Specified 0

Plans & Policies

Organization has Fundraising Plan? Under Development
Organization has Strategic Plan? Yes
Years Strategic Plan Considers 3
Management Succession Plan No
Business Continuity of Operations Plan No
Organization Policies And Procedures Yes
Nondiscrimination Policy Yes
Whistle Blower Policy No
Document Destruction Policy No
Directors and Officers Insurance Policy Yes
State Charitable Solicitations Permit Yes
State Registration No

Risk Management Provisions


Reporting and Evaluations

Management Reports to Board? Yes
CEO Formal Evaluation and Frequency Yes Annually
Senior Management Formal Evaluation and Frequency N/A N/A
Non Management Formal Evaluation and Frequency Yes Annually


Board Chair Mr. John Altomare Esq.
Board Chair Company Affiliation Seven Hills Foundation
Board Chair Term Dec 2016 - Dec 2019
Board Co-Chair --
Board Co-Chair Company Affiliation --
Board Co-Chair Term -

Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
John N. Altomare FA & E Law Offices Voting
Maureen F. Binienda Sout High Voting
Charles P. Conroy Charles P. Conroy Colsulting, LLC --
David A. Jordan Seven Hills Foundation Voting
Robert L. Mahar Retired Voting
Tammy Murray Worcester Public Schools Voting
Deborah Needleman Newton-Wellesley Hospital Voting
Robert Oriol Oriol Health Care Voting
David Paydarfar UMass Memorial Healthcare and UMass Medical Shool Voting
Frances Polito Retired Voting
John M. Prosser G.F. Wright Investment Co. Voting
Marianne E. Rogers Roggers Insurance Agency Inc. Voting
David E. Simon Berkeley Research Group Voting
Peter Stanton New England Business Media Voting
Claire M. Swan Retired Voting

Constituent Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
-- -- --

Youth Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
-- -- --

Advisory Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
Jeremy Alliger Alliger Arts --
Elaine Fallon Quinsigamond College (retired) --
Robin Foley Seven Hills Foundation --
Thomas Keane Concord Carlisle High School --
Martha McKenna Lesley University --
Carl Richardson MA State House --

Board Demographics

Ethnicity African American/Black: 1
Asian American/Pacific Islander: 0
Caucasian: 16
Hispanic/Latino: 0
Native American/American Indian: 0
Other: 0
Other (if specified): 0
Gender Female: 6
Male: 11
Not Specified 0

Board Information

Board Term Lengths 3
Board Term Limits 2
Board Meeting Attendance % 80%
Written Board Selection Criteria No
Written Conflict Of Interest Policy Yes
Percentage of Monetary Contributions 100%
Percentage of In-Kind Contributions 100%
Constituency Includes Client Representation Yes

Standing Committees

  • Development / Fund Development / Fund Raising / Grant Writing / Major Gifts
  • Education
  • Executive
  • Finance
  • Nominating

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments


Foundation Comments



Revenue vs. Expense ($000s)

Expense Breakdown 2017 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2016 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2015 (%)

Prior Three Years Total Revenue and Expense Totals

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Total Revenue $622,832 $525,996 $358,598
Total Expenses $642,902 $652,228 $453,621

Prior Three Years Revenue Sources

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Foundation and
Corporation Contributions
$184,250 $150,635 $41,000
Government Contributions $243,194 $180,000 $179,900
    Federal $15,000 -- --
    State $225,194 $177,000 $176,900
    Local $3,000 $3,000 $3,000
    Unspecified -- -- --
Individual Contributions $22,786 $27,282 $26,561
Indirect Public Support -- -- --
Earned Revenue $147,544 $162,610 $105,408
Investment Income, Net of Losses $25,058 $5,469 $5,729
Membership Dues -- -- --
Special Events -- -- --
Revenue In-Kind -- -- --
Other -- -- --

Prior Three Years Expense Allocations

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Program Expense $522,930 $537,963 $363,621
Administration Expense $94,322 $87,665 $70,000
Fundraising Expense $25,650 $26,600 $20,000
Payments to Affiliates -- -- --
Total Revenue/Total Expenses 0.97 0.81 0.79
Program Expense/Total Expenses 81% 82% 80%
Fundraising Expense/Contributed Revenue 6% 7% 8%

Prior Three Years Assets and Liabilities

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Total Assets $603,084 $514,042 $506,835
Current Assets $600,289 $512,763 $505,559
Long-Term Liabilities -- -- --
Current Liabilities $505,292 $396,180 $262,742
Total Net Assets $97,792 $117,862 $244,093

Prior Three Years Top Three Funding Sources

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
1st (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --
2nd (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --
3rd (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --

Financial Planning

Endowment Value $214,611.00
Spending Policy N/A
Percentage(If selected) --
Credit Line No
Reserve Fund No
How many months does reserve cover? --

Capital Campaign

Are you currently in a Capital Campaign? No
Capital Campaign Purpose --
Campaign Goal --
Capital Campaign Dates -
Capital Campaign Raised-to-Date Amount --
Capital Campaign Anticipated in Next 5 Years? No

Short Term Solvency

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Current Ratio: Current Assets/Current Liabilities 1.19 1.29 1.92

Long Term Solvency

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Long-term Liabilities/Total Assets 0% 0% 0%

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments


Foundation Comments

VSA Massachusetts Inc. (VSA MA) became an Affiliate of Seven Hills Foundation Inc. in November 2014. As such, the most recent 990s and audits posted above are that of Seven Hills Foundation Inc. and data about VSA MA is included in those files. Financial summary data in the charts and graphs is per VSA Massachusetts Inc.'s records. Please note the 2015 data above reflects an eight month period, highlighting VSA's transition to becoming an affiliate of Seven Hills Foundation Inc.


The Impact tab is a section on the Giving Common added in October 2013; as such the majority of nonprofits have not yet had the chance to complete this voluntary section. The purpose of the Impact section is to ask five deceptively simple questions that require reflection and promote communication about what really matters – results. The goal is to encourage strategic thinking about how a nonprofit will achieve its goals. The following Impact questions are being completed by nonprofits slowly, thoughtfully and at the right time for their respective organizations to ensure the most accurate information possible.

1. What is your organization aiming to accomplish?


2. What are your strategies for making this happen?


3. What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?


4. How will your organization know if you are making progress?


5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?