ARTS Development Dept: Open Positions

We are looking to fill the following positions:

Database Specialist – Position Filled
The Database Specialist is an experienced, energetic and talented professional who contributes to A Reason To Survive (ARTS) by utilizing their database management and analysis skills to connect the Program, Operation and Development Departments.

Grants Manager Position Filled
The Grants Manager will research and write public and private grant proposals and reports, take a leadership role in integrating grants into strategic fundraising goals, oversee grant & report submission schedules and manage the grants database.

Individual Gifts Manager
The primary responsibility of the Individual Giving Manager is to develop and implement strategies for solicitation that will grow annual revenue from individuals. Read more

Choosing Destinee: A Student’s Journey

I had superhero music scores on–the kind of music that comes on in the background when a battle is about to begin–I had the table set with comic books, superhero masks, the whole thing. It was my first time teaching my own class at The ARTS Center. If you were to step into my class, you would swear you were an Avenger. I was all excited, but in the end, my students did not finish the project. They just talked about comics the whole time! At the time I was mad, but I realize it is just the process that matters.

By the time I taught my first class fall 2014, one year ago now, I had already been with ARTS since January 2010. I came in as an intern, ARTS was my first internship ever, and then I became an Empower Student and graduated to Empower Alumni status after participating in a public art show at La Bodega Gallery in the summer of 2014.

The day of my interview, back in 2010, I came to ARTS in business apparel at an hour early. I was even wearing heels. After passing the interview with Rob, the Director of Creativity, and Adriana, the old Program Manager, I was accepted to be an intern. I was fourteen years old.

On my first day, I came in again with nice business apparel clothes and heels. I asked Rob if there was something I could do and he handed me a broom. I felt like I was not prepared for the broom and I didn’t know if I was going to like it here. I didn’t know how to sweep at first–we had rugs at my home–but I got the hang of it. I came early every day and swept the hall because I knew what to do. But I didn’t say anything because at the time, I did not speak that much. Or at all. But that changed with some time and getting to know everyone.

I think the time I knew I was going to be adopted into ARTS was when it was my 15th birthday. I came to my internship at ARTS because I didn’t plan on doing much but having cake at home, I didn’t think ARTS would celebrate it, I had only been there a couple of months, but they did! Someone from admin asked me and my friend into the kitchen, she pretended not to know, but it was a nice set up. Cupcakes. Just for me. That’s when I knew I’m going to be here. Matt, the CEO, talks about me in his speeches now.

At first, I started out with painting, then I did ceramics, ceramic masks, then we had a portrait class and a still-life class, then jewelry making, then photography, then yoga, and the whole time we had tons of community art projects and I made cards for donors for days–that was fun, but even though I liked all of this, I came into ARTS wanting to do comics and writing. I gave up on comics and writing after the first year and focused on painting. I gave up for a few reasons.

Before I even knew of ARTS, I was familiar with art because I would see my grandfather’s portrait paintings everywhere at my grandma’s house. My mom told me that my grandfather put his art on the backburner to help my grandmother raise my mother and my uncle. Knowing this, impacted me at the time, though I didn’t think about it too much until it came time to “pick something to do as a job.” I wanted something that would earn money, I didn’t think I would be able to make money in art and I didn’t want to be competitive.

Then, ARTS offered their first writing class and I got to take a writing class in college. I picked up writing again. After I got back into the writing that lead to the comics.

I write because I make up worlds and people in my head. When I was younger and felt too lonely, I made up people, then I felt I needed to write them into existence on my paper. I write because it is more fun to imagine yourself as a hero, fighting the bad guy. I love it and it is fun.

At the end of each writing class at ARTS, we published a chapbook of the whole class’ writing. It was actually an amazing and cool experience, and it was nerve racking as well. It was like opening my heart up to public. At the end of quarter Open House, our chapbook was displayed. I remember walking around near it to see people’s reaction to my writing and being nervous as my mom read it. I had two comments from the people around me saying that they liked my section of writing. I felt very validated in my writing and excited to keep writing and telling more stories.

Then came the La Bodega Senior Empower Show, where I displayed two full chapbooks of only my writing. So if it was like opening my heart to be part of the Open House chapbook, then the La Bodega Empower Show was like putting my whole self on display, it was just me and the wall. By this time, at the Empower Show at the La Bodega Gallery, I was a senior in high school. It was a wonderful and a stressful few days. I had had my work in shows before, but never away from The ARTS Center. Never with so many pieces and never with so many of my friends. It was fun and cool. When I looked around the Bodega Gallery was beautiful. It reminded me of a old haunted warehouse. The smell of dust was around but not overbearing. Just enough so you knew, hey people worked here.

As the time came to show my work and my family and friends started to come in with more strangers, I felt like a celebrity, everyone wanted to talk to me about how beautiful my paintings and ceramics were and how much they loved the chapbooks. I was excited on a different level, my parents had never looked so proud and my mom kept on repeating for me to find the owner of the place and thank him. Selling so much work affirmed to me that not only did people like my work but that they believed that I could go the distance to archive anything with this work. The thing I loved the most was seeing people’s faces light up when they took my paintings home. I always like to see that.

When I think of ARTS, I think of the people, the kids. I think of those painting I need to finish and do. I think of these amazing ideas. Mainly people. They have adopted me into their family knowing it or not. When I walk through the doors I have no question everyone wants the best for me. In turn, I try to give the kids I teach the best, the most fun. The most knowledge and coolest projects. I want them to feel like how I felt getting cupcakes from like strangers at the time. It felt good, everyone should feel it.

My hopes and dreams for the future are to be successful enough at an art job. Well to be a comic artist and to draw and make stories doing what I love: art. My main goal is to be comfortable doing art and being independent. I want to also have a degree in graphic design. Just so I can hang it on my wall one day and say I did it. I also want to have kids, get married, but not that order. And try to be famous for comics. I’ll be fine if it’s just one hundred fans and everyone at ARTS.

Join the ARTS Family: Become a Muse

What is a Muse?

A Muse is a vital source of inspiration and sustenance for a creative artist.

Become an ARTS Muse Sustaining Member and partner with ARTS to provide youth with therapeutic arts (Heal), arts education (Inspire) and creative life and career preparation (Empower).

Secure, automatic withdrawals from your debit or credit card make it easy to give monthly, quarterly or annually.

Your gift will enable us to provide the following and more:

  • $10/month ($120/annually) supports a week of after school snacks for 300 students!
  • $25/month ($300/annually) supports three Saturday Guest Artist Workshops for middle and high school youth!
  • $50/month ($600/annually) supports 12 field trips for youth attending cultural and educational experiences throughout San Diego County!
  • $100/month ($1,200/annually) provides a 6-month paid apprenticeship for a high school student with a professional artist!
  • $250/month ($3,000/annually) provides 8 Alumni teaching artists positions for a quarter!

We will be honored to recognize you as an ARTS Muse Sustaining Member in t­he ARTS e-newsletter and website, and in the ARTS Annual Report.

For more information, visit our Support ARTS page.

Americans For The Arts: Meet The Arts Education Network Team

Matt D’Arrigo

Founder and CEO, A Reason To Survive | ARTS

Matt D’Arrigo is Founder and CEO of A Reason To Survive | ARTS, a nationally recognized non-profit agency dedicated to changing the life trajectory of youth facing adversity through the arts andcreativity. In addition to national media coverage, D’Arrigo’s work has been the subject of the Academy Award winning documentary “Inocente”, featured in the New York Times bestselling book “Decisive” by Chip and Dan Heath, and profiled in Darius Graham’s book “Being the Difference: True Stories of Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things to Change the World”. D’Arrigo also speaks, advocates, and advises on arts education, the use of the arts as a prevention and intervention vehicle, the power and importance of creativity, and starting and leading non-profits. D’Arrigo lives in San Diego with his wife, Hulya, and children Tessa and Andrew.

Original Article

Something To Say: Creative Youth Development


Local leaders in the arena of youth and the arts, including Matt D’Arrigo of A Reason To Survive are hosting San Diego’s first Creative Youth Development Summit on February 4.  The theme: Something To Say, highlights the results of a ground-breaking Wallace Foundation Report on the benefits creative youth development programs have on individuals and the community.

The goal of the Summit is to strengthen the availability of creative youth activities in our community’s after-school programs and other informal learning settings.

Along with A Reason To Survive, Summit collaborators include the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory, Young Audiences, and Playwrights Project.

Featured speakers include San Diego’s own Denise Montgomery, a MacAurthur Fellowship Winner and co-author of The Wallace Foundation’s Report Something to Say: Success Principles for Afterschool Arts Programs from Urban Youth and Other Experts, and Bill Strickland, founder of Pittsburgh’s Manchester Bidwell Corporation.

UT San Diego: School Honors Young Girl’s Legacy

Mural features Braille, sign-language tribute to beloved student

Rob Tobin, Artist-in-Residence at A Reason To Survive (ARTS), right, with Sebastian Gonzalez, left, and Dylan Ginther look at a mural they helped make in honor of their friend and fellow student Yusra Nasir who passed away last year. The multi-dimensional mural lines a wall at Lafayette Elementary School. — K.C. Alfred

Rob Tobin, Artist-in-Residence at A Reason To Survive (ARTS), right, with Sebastian Gonzalez, left, and Dylan Ginther look at a mural they helped make in honor of their friend and fellow student Yusra Nasir who passed away last year. The multi-dimensional mural lines a wall at Lafayette Elementary School. — K.C. Alfred

— Described by her teachers and peers as highly motivated with a strong personality, fifth-grader Yusra Nasir loved to laugh and spend time with her friends. She loved colors, pink playdough and jewelry, especially bracelets.

All that — her vibrant character and her favorite things — were the inspiration for a colorful mural at Clairemont’s Lafayette Elementary School, where Yusra was a student.

Yusra passed away last summer from health complications, but her memory at the school lives on through the 60-foot mural, called “Yusra’s Legacy.” The mural, which covers the wall of a building facing the schoolyard, was formally unveiled during the sixth-grade promotion ceremony on June 13.

“The best part was the unveiling,” said ninth-grader Dylan Ginther, a former schoolmate of Yusra’s, “because everyone was so surprised and they were happy to see it.”

The artwork, paid for by Proposition Z funds and some ASB funds, came together thanks to a partnership between the school and the nonprofit A Reason To Survive (ARTS), founded in 2001 to help kids facing adversity through art and music programs.

Rob Tobin, artist in residence with ARTS, said the project, an image of hands signing “I Love You,” took a couple of months to complete. The first phase involved handmade ceramic and glass tiles that spell out, in Braille, an inspirational quote from Helen Keller: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched — they must be felt with the heart.”

The second phase — painting and putting the materials on the wall — took two days.

About 75 students, teachers, parents and ARTS volunteers worked on the mural to honor Yusra, who was deaf and blind.

yusra“She was very girlie,” said Kim Chaney, the aide who worked with Yusra since first grade. “She just had personality and sparkle and shine … she really was an inspiration.”

Getting the mural completed took “a lot of teamwork,” Tobin said. “Every one of those 75 people who were involved really played a part — we couldn’t have done it without them.”

Dylan helped paint, put the plaster and cement on the wall and wash the grout off the tiles. He admitted the project was not easy, but it was worth it.

“She was a good friend of mine — I’d call her my best friend,” Dylan said. “We would always play during recess time together.”

Yusra lost her eyesight around first grade. She communicated through Braille and tactile signing, in which the listener places their hands on the signer and feels the movement of each word. Despite losing her sight, Yusra remained in the same classes as her peers.

“Academically, she kept up,” said Chaney, who recalled Yusra’s love of school and reading. “She wasn’t what I expected at all because she was so independent.”

The sign language on the mural is in the context of friendship, denoting respect and compassion.

“I just had this vision of a sea of ‘I Love You’ hands on this wall,” said Principal Jerilee Fischer-Garza. “And this is Rob’s interpretation of this concept. Then all the volunteers added their own special touch, so it is really like a collective vision that represents Yusra.”

The tiles on the wall are all unique, crafted by many students’ hands.

“It helped me remember Yusra,” said Sebastian Gonzalez, who was friends with Yusra since preschool. “I did it in her honor and memory. And I really miss her — she was my friend.”

Sebastian proudly pointed out which tiles he made — an eclectic mix of green, yellow and gray rectangular and circular tiles with unique etchings.

“I knew Yusra would like the designs, so I just came up with them.”

Mary Kay Cook, Yusra’s fifth-grade teacher, recalled Yusra’s impressive ability to memorize, allowing her to draw pictures from when she had vision.

“She always knew you just by your sense,” Cook said. “We would go to sign to her and she would know who you were without you identifying yourself.”

Yusra learned how to tie her shoes with Cook after someone didn’t believe she could.

“She had a lot of determination and grit,” said Fischer-Garza.

Though Sebastian no longer attends Lafayette — he’s now going into the seventh grade — he believes the mural will continue to serve its purpose.

“The kids in the future growing up will be able to see it,” he said. “I won’t be able to see it anymore, but they will … and as they grow up, they’ll learn more about it.”

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Success Magazine: Top Of Mind: Tips and Tactics for Life and Work

Life and work are all about finding and doing what you love, and being passionate about it. This will change as you go through life. You have to shed skins and re-create yourself many times, which is easier said than done and requires overcoming fears, taking risks and making tough decisions. Two books that helped me in this journey are Joseph Campbell’s Pathways to Bliss and Chip and Dan Heath’s Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. (Disclosure: ARTS is a case study in Decisive.)

—Matt D’Arrigo, CEO of ARTS | A Reason to Survive

See more here.



Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Review

A few weeks ago, the empower kids and I went on a field trip to the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Downtown San Diego. I don’t visit many museum but I do know a little about contemporary art. Contemporary art is art produced at the present period in time. I have seen different styles of this art but not in the form that was first presented to us. The first artist was a man who used to paint, then went to India, saw these pretty textile carpets and brought them to the museum to call them art.

Our tour guide that day asked us how we felt about him not making these carpets but still calling them his art and that it was art. Most of the empower students agreed that it wasn’t art and most definitely not his. We then started to talk about what was art and who got to say what was art and not. It messed with my head for a while but I finally figured it out. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Art is my reason to keep pushing for my dreams. The empower students and I may have not thought it was art and that he shouldn’t take credit but the next person that enters in the museum may think it’s wonderful art and want to buy carpet. I don’t think it’s up to any one so I shouldn’t judge this guy.

All and all it was a good trip and we all had fun.


National Endowment For The Arts: Art Saved My Life: Talking With Inocente

Inocente’s gripping journey from homeless teenager to full-fledged artist was beautifully captured in this film which won the 2013 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. But the story doesn’t end there. After years of drifting from shelter to shelter, Inocente, now 19, not only has a permanent place to call home, she has serious interest in her artwork, and most impressively, a vocation to advocate for other disenfranchised teens and general access to arts education. Art not only saved her life; art transformed it.

Special thanks to Matt D’Arrigo and Rob Tobin of A Reason to Survive [A.R.T.S] for their generosity and their help. A.R.T.S is the nonprofit that was instrumental in helping Inocente get back on her feet.

Inocente:  I think art makes me a stronger and better person because it’s a way that I express my feelings. I’m not a big talker on how I feel. But if someone gives me a canvas, I can definitely describe all my feelings to you on a canvas. So it’s made me stronger in the sense that I’ve become more confident. And art just kind of kept me away from all the bad things I could have been doing. I felt like it saved my life.

Inocente:  Hi. My name’s Inocente and I’m from San Diego, California.

Adam Kampe: So your earliest experience with art—do you remember that?

Inocente: I always did like sketches and little drawings. I went to the ARTS center, A Reason To Survive. And that’s where I started painting. So when I was about 14, I really started painting with actual paint. And for me that was like magic. That was when I realized that I was doing artwork.

Adam Kampe: Can you talk about how you discovered ARTS and what exactly ARTS is?

Inocente: Well, I was going to a school that was for homeless kids. They had after school programs. And, of course, I always signed up for the arts because…I don’t know, I guess I just was more attracted to art, rather than, say, going to play soccer at the field. So I would always sign up for the art class. And A Reason To Survive has a van program, called Van Go. They pick us up and take us to their center. And we would do art work there. And that’s how I discovered them. And we would take classes, probably, once a week. And I just kind of fell in love with them. And I felt accepted there. So I just kind of started taking the bus there on my own and finding my way there and back. So I ended up being there almost every day.

Adam Kampe: In looking at ARTS website, it mentions that the organization believes in the power of the arts and creativity to literally transform lives, especially those of kids or young adults. It’s pretty safe to say that ARTS and the arts has literally transformed your life. Can you talk about that transformation and that change?

Inocente: Yeah. It helped me find who I was. I mean, I feel, too, that after all I went through, after all the things that I went through, with being homeless for over nine years, to being on the streets, to the relationship with my mom. Being able to use art as my escape, rather than, say, drugs or join a gang or do any of that, was just amazing for me that I went through the right path. Everyone has a different thing they go to, like music or sculpting or just any type of art.

Adam Kampe: As you’ve traveled around and discussed the movie, have you had a chance to engage with other kids?

Inocente: I went to Atlanta. And we did a screening for Tri Cities High School. And a lot of high school students came to watch the documentary. And afterwards, I did a Q and A. And they were just so sweet. Three guys from the school collaborated on a painting that they did for me. And I just felt so honored to be there and I exchanged emails and phone numbers with a lot of them. Because they wanted to talk to me about how much they could relate even though they were at in Atlanta and I came from San Diego, how much we related and how me being there in the documentary gave them hope. That made me realize how much change this was going to make for not just me, for everybody.

Adam Kampe: Was there a moment, either during the filming of the documentary or after it, where you realized, “Wow. You know, this is something I really want to get involved in? This whole issue in general of arts education or being an advocate for other people in your situation?”

Inocente: When the filmmakers approached me about doing the documentary, they’re really, really amazing people. And they were genuine. But, you know, I said yes because I knew this was going to help people. I didn’t do it because I thought it was going to make me famous or anything. I didn’t even know how far this documentary would go but I said yes to making a documentary because I felt like I wasn’t only telling my story but I was telling the story of many other people. And a lot of people compare to this story, maybe not on the same level as that they were homeless, but in a sense of being hurt and not giving up hope and continuing with their life. So the fact that this documentary has gotten a lot more exposure just, it’s really fulfilling for me because I know it’s going to help a lot of people. And I know it’s just going to give more exposure to the reality out there.

Adam Kampe: One of the things that really struck me is how you woke each morning, and you talk about this, and decided that the first thing you were gonna do is paint your face. And there is something so unique and courageous about using your own body as, for lack of a better word, a canvas. Can you talk about that and how that sort of came to be?

Inocente: I was just so in love with art that I wanted to start my morning with art. And I found a way and that way was by painting on my face. So every morning, I would wake up just a little bit earlier, so I had enough time to paint my face all colorful before I went to school. And I got a lot of judgment for that and a lot of people were very judgmental. But I realize that it wasn’t about them. And it was about me and it was about how I liked how I felt. And it was just something fun for me to do. And even though people were judgmental, I still did it anyways.

Adam Kampe: How did you come across what you would maybe describe as your style? Because there’s definitely an almost electric, feel to the paintings at least what I’ve seen in the film and online.

Inocente: I think despite my past, I’ve managed to paint beautiful things because even though I went through a lot and there’s still some things I’m working on, I feel like if I paint sad things and dark stuff that it would just make me even sadder. So even if I’m sad, I try to paint something beautiful and bright because it just kind of changes your mood. And the colors are more vibrant so it gives you a different state of mind, I feel like. Also, my art is very messy. And I like that because growing up, I felt like my father would want perfection. So art has given me the freedom to be messy and if I accidently drop paint on the canvas, I just tell people that’s my artwork.

Adam Kampe: What do you dream about for other children, teenagers, that are in your position? Or another way to put that is what do you dream about for the future of arts education for the youth of the country?

Inocente: Well, my dream for the arts education is that, you know that, it never disappears. Because I feel like, you know, we don’t have that a lot in school. I feel like if I went to school where we did a lot of artwork, I feel like I would have done so much better. And maybe not necessarily like painting, but art is music or sculpting or art can be anything. We just cannot live without art. And I don’t know how anyone can even think about getting rid of the arts education. Because it’s so important, not just to people who love art, but people who see the art. So I feel like it’s, it’s like a chain reaction. Kids will act out if they’re unhappy and if there’s no art, I’m sure there’ll be a few unhappy kids out there. I’d be one of them.


Excerpt of “Night Owl” by Broke for Free from their Directionless EP.

Excerpt of “Love Story” by Fhernando from the album, Last Days of Disco. Both pieces used courtesy of Creative Commons and found on the WFMU’s Free Music Archive at

See more here.

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