Matt D’Arrigo, founder of the California nonprofit organization “ARTS,” was inspired by his own experience of dealing with pain through painting to create a safe haven where nearly 2500 kids a year who are struggling through tough times can express themselves through art.
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Cutting the arts – and arts education – out of schools is one of the truest forms of identity theft.
Watch the Talk here: What’s Next? Art a Force for Change: Matt D’Arrigo at TEDxSanDiego
Join the ARTS movement to ensure that ALL kids have the opportunity, the ability, and the resources needed to engage and to use the power of arts to find their own identities and change their lives for the better.
– Matt D’Arrigo
Matt D’Arrigo is CEO and founder of A Reason to Survive (ARTS), a San Diego organization providing arts programs and career preparation for youth facing adversity. His belief in the power of the arts stems from the year he spent caring for his mother and sister as they both battled cancer, during which he relied on his art and love of music to help him face an extraordinary life challenge. A student in the ARTS Empower program was the subject of Inocente, winning the 2012 Oscar© for best short documentary.
Matt D’Arrigo Of A Reason To Survive Discusses Working With Inocente And Other Underprivileged Local Teens
Earlier this year, people all over the world found out about Matt D’Arrigo’s arts organization, A Reason to Survive (ARTS).
“Inocente,” a film based on a local homeless ARTS participant, won an Academy Award for best documentary short.
But D’Arrigo, 41, didn’t start the organization for the glitz and glamour. He wanted to give kids facing adversity a place to feel safe and he’s been doing that since 2001.
ARTS recently moved into a new building in National City, where the program’s been based for just over a year.
D’Arrigo, who came to San Diego from Boston in 1997, explains why he feels art can save lives.
Q: What is A Reason to Survive?
A: ARTS is dedicated to changing the life trajectory of youth facing adversity through the arts and creativity. We offer therapeutic arts programs, formal arts education, and college/career preparation in the arts and creative industries. We’re a one-stop shop bringing youth from crisis to college or career using the arts and creativity. Our mission is to provide, support, and advocate for arts programs that heal, inspire, and empower youth facing adversity.
Q: Why did you decide to found it?
A: I came up with the whole idea when I was 19 years old facing my own difficulties. I was studying art in college when my mom and sister were both diagnosed with cancer. I took a year off and stayed home, but would escape to my bedroom everyday to paint and listen to music. It was extremely therapeutic and transformational for me and helped me through that very difficult time. I knew if it worked for me, it would work for other kids facing their own challenges.
Q: ARTS recently got a lot of attention thanks to the Oscar-winning short documentary “Inocente.” How does her story reflect the organization?
A: Inocente’s story is the story of ARTS and exemplifies why we exist. She is the exact reason why I started the organization. Inocente was homeless, abused and bullied, but a true artist was inside waiting to get out. She relied on art as a coping mechanism and a vehicle to turn her life around. She’s one of our many success stories.
Q: Has the success of the documentary helped ARTS?
A: It has helped in a number of areas. First, it’s validated our program in a very real way. Second, it has given us national recognition, awareness and a platform to advocate about the importance of the arts and arts education for youth. We are taking a leadership role in creating a movement around the importance of arts education and youth arts programming. It has also opened doors and allowed us to build relationships that will help strengthen the organization both financially and programmatically so we can have an even greater impact.
Q: Tell us about the new space in National City and what you hope to do there.
A: It’s incredible — 20,000 square feet of creative space for kids! We have two buildings, a main building that houses our resource library, our administrative space and our visual arts, music, industrial arts and media arts departments. The second building houses our dance and theater departments. It’s like a mini campus! Our goal is to continue to deepen and grow our programs to serve more kids, especially in National City and South Bay.
Q: Why is having a work space important to the kids you work with?
A: Having a third space — not school or home — is critical to our model. One of our students recently said it very well: “School and home is where you have to keep secrets, ARTS is where you can let them all out.” We believe having a safe, nurturing, inspirational environment for kids to escape their daily struggles can be transformational in itself. Then when you fill that space with positive adult mentors and role models, that’s when magic begins to happen.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: I walked from Oregon to San Diego when I moved here. It took me two months, I only spent $300, and I lost 30 pounds. I think I need to take a walk again and shed some LBs.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: My work weeks are pretty intense and busy, so my ideal weekend is having no commitments or obligations — just freedom to be spontaneous or not. I enjoy being outside, spending time with my wife and kids — going to my kids sporting events. Cookout with friends and neighbors. Maybe hit the beach or local parks … or just lounge around and read.
The Fieldstone Foundation hosted Chip Heath, bestselling author and faculty at Stanford University, on April 24 to present his latest book titled: Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Before writing this book, Chip Heath worked with members of our Leadership Network from San Diego and Orange Counties to help think through and validate his research framework. In addition, our collaboration with Chip led to the profile of Matt D’ Arrigo, a Fieldstone Leadership Network member from San Diego, ED and founder of A Reason to Survive, to be featured as one of the cases in the book. For more information on the book, you can go to: http://heathbrothers.com/books/decisive/
A 19-year-old named Inocente recently made movie history when she became the subject of a film that won the Oscar for best documentary short. The eponymous movie follows Inocente life on the streets of San Diego where she struggles to become a painter.
For Inocente, who is almost always seen the film with her own art painted on her face, salvation comes in the form of an upcoming art show for which she spends much of the documentary preparing. Thankfully, Inocente is a student of the San Diego nonprofit A Reason To Survive (ARTS), through which she finds both the means and materials to practice her art.
Since 1992, ARTS has provided San Diego underprivileged children with arts programs and education, and college and career preparation. Founded by Matt D’Arrigo, ARTS has evolved from its initial arts resources program at the Ronald McDonald House to a full service arts agency for youth that is constantly expanding its reaches, most recently with a brand new headquarters.
We’ve recently moved into a new 20,000-square-foot facility in National City, says D’Arrigo. With the help of a grant from Supervisor Greg Cox, we’ve recently opened a new Industrial Arts Department, which will focus on woodworking, carpentry, and fabrication. The new facility consists of two buildings. One will be dedicated to performance — dance and theatre. Another studio space will be dedicated for fashion — textiles, sewing, jewelry.
ARTS’ programs are not just relegated to one zip code, however. Under D’Arrigo leadership, ARTS is now undertaking community beautification projects all over San Diego.
We’ve recently partnered with the San Diego Foundation and Pomegranate Center to take these projects to a whole new level, explains D’Arrigo. We’re taking abandoned and forgotten open spaces in communities and having our youth work with the community, designers, landscape architects, artists, and urban planners, to recreate them into beautiful gathering spaces for the community. Our first one, Butterfly Park in National City, will be completed on April 22.
It is programs such as these that helped Inocente bring her own works to the public, and ultimately the Academy Awards. Says D’Arrigo of their night in Los Angeles: Never in my wildest dreams did I think a documentary on a student at ARTS would win an Oscar. When the announcement was made we all jumped and screamed with joy. That was quickly followed by lots of tears. We all went out to celebrate at the Vanity Fair party afterwards. It was packed with stars and they all loved Inocente. She was walking around with the Oscar and everyone was congratulating her, kissing her, giving her advice. It was amazing.
Now, Inocente has obtained citizenship for herself and her family, and through ARTS and its affiliates, has obtained the necessary copyrights for her works and her story. But many other underprivileged children are still in need of the programs offered by ARTS, and so over the next year, the new facility will double as a training center for educators to bring art programs to children on a grander scale.
We are looking to begin training, coaching, and consulting individuals, organizations, and communities in the work we do, says D’Arrigo. That how we see scaling our program nationwide. We will also be taking more of a leadership role in advocacy and awareness.
Though the Oscar win has brought national light to the organization, D’Arrigo says they’re not waiting by the mailbox for checks to roll in. They have longterm goals in place that they are still endeavoring to reach, and people wishing to help are encouraged to contact the organization. But for now, Incocente story is proof that ARTS is making a difference, and will continue to do so for San Diego youths. (619. 297.2787,www.areasontosurvive.org) RYAN THOMAS
According to the California Arts Council:
So … when A Reason To Survive notes on its webpage that it “believes that the visual, performing and literary arts can literally transform lives – especially those of kids,”there’s now an Oscar-winning film to support that belief.
We appreciate our partnership with the California Arts Council!
We applaud the statement of support by First Lady Michelle Obama.
“The arts are especially important for young people. Every day they engage in the arts, they learn to open their imaginations and dream just a little bigger and to strive every day to reach those dreams.”
and help the thousands of other youth overcoming their own challenges through the arts!