ARTS Founder Matt D’Arrigo first conceived of A Reason To Survive in 1992 while his mother and sister both battled cancer.

During that time, painting and music were Matt’s refuge. The escape and relief of his creative projects literally gave him “a reason to survive,” especially after the passing of his mother.

Recognizing how his involvement in the arts helped him through one of the most difficult times of his life, Matt was inspired to provide the opportunity to other young people facing their own personal crises to find their inner power through creative expression. 

In 2001, Matt accepted a $5,000 gift from his father and created A Reason To Survive; and for 15 years since, ARTS has used creativity as a tool to improve the lives of youth throughout San Diego. 

Our programs began as one-on-one therapeutic art sessions at Ronald McDonald House in 2001, and by 2006 had programs at 20+ outreach sites. 

In 2007, the first dedicated ARTS Center opened in a 7,000 square foot space in Liberty Station. During that time, ARTS programming expanded to include formal art education and college and creative career preparation alongside therapeutic arts. 

In 2012, ARTS moved to National City and grew both its space and its vision. Today, we see our ability to create real, systemic, and lasting change taking root in the community we serve. Our 20,000 square foot ARTS Center is an anchor institution at the heart of National City’s emerging arts and culture district. And our ARTS Model has continued its evolution to engage and transform an entire community through a youth-led, arts-based social change approach.




  • 2001 – ARTS launches our first program, bringing art projects to children and families staying at Ronald McDonald House during their treatments
  • 2002–2007 – ARTS expands programming to 20+ Outreach Sites
  • 2005 – ARTS gets its first office space – 900 square feet in Old Town
  • 2007 – The first ARTS Center opens in a 7,000 square foot space at NTC – Liberty Station
  • 2012 – The ARTS Center moves into a 20,000 square foot space in National City adopt a community-based approach
  • 2012 The documentary Inocente is released, and wins an Academy Award
  • 2013 – The book Decisive, which highlights ARTS as a case study, is released
  • 2014 – ARTS establishes an onsite social work team to provide support for ARTS students
  • 2015 – ARTS introduces Creating Vibrant Neighborhoods Initiative (CVNI)
  • 2017 – Matt D’Arrigo steps down as ARTS CEO and the Board of Directors ushers in a new chapter of organizational leadership with the hiring of Marty Remmell