California Arts Council: Arts Council Grantee Has Impact On Oscars

“Inocente” Won In The Short Documentary Category And Is The Story Of How The “A Reason to Survive” Arts Nonprofit Impacts Homeless Youth

When the filmmaking team of Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine won the Oscar for documentary short with “Inocente” on February 24, 2013, they highlighted the enormous impact of a southern California arts nonprofit. “A Reason to Survive,” a National City-based organization dedicated to bettering the lives of homeless youth (and a Creating Public Value grantee), is significantly highlighted in the film.

“The film follows a homeless, undocumented immigrant teenage girl in San Diego as she relentlessly pursues her dream of becoming an artist,” notes the LA Times in a post-Oscar wrap-up. “With heart and wit, the film explores the issue of homelessness among youth while also capturing the power of art and ambition.”

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.

Kudos from the California Arts Council to the filmmakers, to A Reason to Survive staff and supporters, and a special shout-out to all the youth and others whose lives have been transformed through guts, determination, spirit, and the arts.

See more at here.

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Americans for the Arts: And The Oscar Goes To… Arts Education

The big winner at Sunday night’s Academy Awards was arts education. In two key moments, a spotlight was shone on the important role the arts play in children’s lives.

At the end of the broadcast, there was the wonderful statement of support by First Lady Michelle Obama. She said, “They 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.”

But before the First Lady’s surprise appearance, there was another big moment for arts education during the Best Documentary Short category. The winning film, Inocente, is the story of a 15-year-old girl who refuses to let her dream of becoming an artist be stifled by her life as an undocumented immigrant forced to live homeless for the last nine years.

Inocente was introduced to the arts through a program in San Diego called ARTS | A Reason To Survive, which uses therapeutic arts programming, arts education, and college & career preparation to create pathways to success for youth facing adversity. Founder Matt D’Arrigo is a member of Americans for the Arts and we featured his programs in our December 2012 edition of the Monthly Wire, our member newsletter.

The following video from San Diego’s ABC affiliate shows the arc of events for Inocente—starting homeless, then participating in ARTS’ programs, all the way up to production of the documentary and standing onstage at the Oscars after Americans for the Arts Artists Committee member Kerry Washington revealed her story as the winning documentary:

Kudos to filmmakers Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine for the incredible job they did conveying the power of the arts to build resiliency and transform lives.

Thanks to Matt and his team for providing these essential arts programs to youth in San Diego and for sharing this success story with the rest of us!

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New York Times: Dreaming Of A Life As Vivid As Her Art

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In a still from the documentary “Inocente,” Inocente Izucar is shown painting “Masters of Disguise.” The film is on MTV on Friday night at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time. Credit Sean Fine

Inocente Izucar wants to join the circus someday and learn sign language. She paints her face every morning with colors and designs as bold as those on her sprawling canvases. She sometimes orders dessert before dinner because she emphatically believes “you can never go wrong with a root-beer float.”

Yet despite a quiet tenacity, endearing quirkiness and crystal-clear opinions, the teenage Ms. Izucar recently found herself incredulous that a group of young students at an art workshop in the Morrisania section of the Bronx looked up to her.

“They want to be just like me,” Ms. Izucar said in an interview. “I don’t want to be just like me.”

As a child Ms. Izucar moved more than 30 times in nine years — sleeping in crowded quarters beside her three younger brothers under one temporary roof after another, and sometimes even outdoors. Her father was deported to Mexico for domestic abuse. She once stood on a bridge and convinced her mother not to jump. Her art and chronic homelessness are the subject of a short documentary, financed through private donations and grants, that will have its premiere Friday on MTV.

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In a still from the documentary “Inocente,” Inocente Izucar is shown painting “Masters of Disguise.” The film is on MTV on Friday night at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time. Credit Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

The husband-and-wife directing team of Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine(he also served as cinematographer; she as writer) did not set out to make a film about a homeless teenage artist in San Diego. They planned a more general documentary about homelessness, struck by the statistic that 1 in 45 children in the United States live on the street, in shelters or in motels.

But three years ago they met Ms. Izucar, then 15, with her elaborately decorated face and siren-red Chuck Taylors.

“She had something that was sort of childlike in her vulnerability and innocence and the way she dreamed about waiting for her life to start — as well as a beyond-her-years maturity,” Ms. Fine said.

Added Mr. Fine, “We were taken with her.”

For “Inocente,” which has won awards on the festival circuit, the Fines first spent four days with Ms. Izucar, now 18, getting to know her and making sure she was comfortable being filmed before they turned on the camera. Ms. Izucar said she never felt self-conscious.

“It was a documentary so I didn’t have to act out anything,” she said. “They just followed me around everywhere.”

The directors found Ms. Izucar through ARTS: A Reason To Survive, a nonprofit organization in San Diego that provides therapeutic arts programming and education, as well as college and career preparation to children and young adults dealing with homelessness, domestic violence, illness and other major life challenges.

The place became a refuge for her — from a distant mother; from a school where she was ridiculed for her face paint; and from a nomadic existence.

When Ms. Izucar first walked into ARTS at the age of 12 — in her rainbow tutu and high-top sneakers — its founder, Matt D’Arrigo, immediately saw that she had promise. “She’s exactly the kind of person I created this program for,” he said.

Ms. Izucar was selected for the program’s annual art show and given three months to produce 30 pieces, a process the film follows. Over time Ms. Izucar said her work has evolved. “It’s gotten cleaner,” she said. “It still comes from the heart. Every painting has a story.”

The producers — Yael Melamede and Shine Global, a nonprofit production company dedicated to ending the abuse and exploitation of children through films — said Ms. Izucar embodied the many issues they wanted to address: homelessness, immigration, undocumented children and arts education.

Shine has collaborated with the directors before — on the 2007 Oscar-nominated documentary feature “War/Dance,” about children from war-torn Uganda who aspire to win their national music competition. (Ms. Melamede was a producer of the 2003 Oscar-nominated film “My Architect,” about Louis Kahn.)

Because “Inocente” is just 40 minutes, the producers hope it will be shown in museums and libraries and that it becomes part of school curriculums, accompanied by art workshops and discussions.

Ms. Izucar has participated in several postscreening workshops recently, like the one in the Bronx this month at DreamYard Project, an arts education program and school.

Yet despite the power of her work and personality, Ms. Izucar is diminutive, soft-spoken and shy. “I don’t like all the attention — it’s just not my thing,” she said. “I like to be alone.”

It was perhaps inevitable that the film would change Ms. Izucar’s life. In addition to earning money from odd jobs, she is now able to support herself on her paintings, which sell for $25 to $5,000 apiece. At a New York art show of her work this month — held at the Tribeca Grand Hotel and organized by Ryan Brooks, one of the film’s executive producers — 24 of 30 paintings sold, along with 25 prints.

“I feel like they’re overpriced,” Ms. Izucar said, “especially because I like to give paintings away.”

About six months ago she rented her own small apartment, where she paints and lives. It is the first time she has been able to unpack.

“I have all my plates, I have all my paints — I know where everything is in my house,” Ms. Izucar said. “It’s an interesting feeling, not having everything in boxes.”

Ms. Izucar has no desire to take art classes. “I don’t feel like I want to learn the right way or the wrong way,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Who’s van Gogh? Picasso? Who’s that?’ It’s embarrassing because everyone knows except me. I know friends’ artwork, but not really old, expensive art. I don’t understand art. I never will.”

Toward the end of Ms. Izucar’s New York stay — which began with her first time on a plane — it was clear that the trip had taken a toll. “I think 10 days was a little too much for me,” she said.

Besides, she was eager to return to the rabbit she recently adopted, an albino named Luna, “because she’s pure white like the moon.”

Rabbits live about 10 years, she said, so she will have to put off joining the circus or going anywhere else, for that matter: Ms. Izucar is determined to give her new bunny a stable home.

“I want to stay in one place,” she said. “I’ve never stayed in one place for more than three months.”

ARTS Is Moving!

We are very excited to introduce the new ARTS Center in National City!

Dear Friends,
A little over five years ago we opened the Pat D’Arrigo ARTS Center at NTC Promenade. It was a major milestone for ARTS, transforming our organization from solely an outreach effort to having a “home,” not only for us, but for the youth we serve. Offering a safe, nurturing, and creative space for our students to escape their struggles and engage with positive adult mentors and peers is critical to our success. As our program has grown, we’ve looked to the future and how we can secure more space in a financially responsible way that would strengthen both our programs and our financial position.

For the last four months we’ve been hard at work with officials in National City to secure what used to be the old city library. It has since been transformed into a community arts center and officials have been seeking a nonprofit partner to operate it. ARTS has been chosen to be that partner.

This amazing facility encompasses two buildings and is almost three times the size of our current space, is half the rent and utilities, and is within walking distance from schools, social service agencies and public transportation. It is also closer to most of our current students, partner sites, and schools. It will have minimal impact on our current populations and open us to a whole new population of students. This is an incredible opportunity for ARTS and will lead us into our next phase of growth. We are thrilled to be embedded in a community that desperately needs our programs.

Our new address is: 200 East 12th St., National City, CA 91950

Saturday, June 16 – Last day of ARTS Center programming
Monday, June 17 – Packing begins
Sunday, July 1 – Begin move-in to ARTS Center in National City
Monday, July 9 – Last day at NTC

We cannot do this without you. We will have more opportunities than ever to make a difference in the lives of youth facing challenges, and we invite you to embrace these opportunities and this next chapter of ARTS! Thank you for your continued support. We can’t wait to share our new space with you!
Matt D’Arrigo, CEO/Founder