History of ARTS

Our Origin Story

Founder Matt D’Arrigo first conceived of A Reason To Survive (ARTS) in 1992 while his mother and sister both battled cancer. Painting and music were Matt’s refuge, giving him “a reason to survive,” especially after the passing of his mother. Just as the arts helped Matt through one of the most difficult times of his life, he aspired to provide that same opportunity to other youth working through their own personal crises.

In 2001, Matt founded ARTS on the philosophy that arts can heal and transform lives. ARTS initially began as a therapeutic arts organization, conducting outreach at The Ronald McDonald House and Rady’s Children’s Hospital. In 2007, ARTS opened a 7,000-sq. ft. Pat D’Arrigo ARTS Center in Liberty Station, and expanded its programs and mission to heal, inspire, and empower youth facing life challenges through therapeutic arts, formal arts education, and college & career preparation.

In 2012, ARTS moved to National City and opened a 20,000-sq. ft. ARTS Center in one of San Diego County’s most health-challenged and economically depressed communities. At the same time, ARTS garnered national recognition and attention: Inocente, a documentary on one of ARTS’ students, won an Oscar; ARTS was a case study in the NY Times best-selling book Decisive; and ARTS was featured on The Today Show. As a result of the move and entry onto the national stage, ARTS grew from serving youth through a therapeutic model to a more comprehensive Creative Youth Development model.

Over the last 8 years, ARTS has been committed to systematic change, anchoring ourselves into the community we serve with our two program areas: ARTS After School, and Community ARTS.


A Reason To Survive (ARTS) opened in 2001 in a small office in Old Town, and soon thereafter moved to Rady Children’s Hospital, where the focus of programming was providing therapeutic arts to youth facing severe challenges. A few years later, ARTS moved again to Liberty Station, where the organization flourished and its name and work really took off, offering arts education and support services for youth (elementary – high school ages), under the tag line “Heal. Inspire. Empower.”

In 2012, ARTS moved into the 20,000 sq. ft. building in National City, where we reside today. Starting in 2018 – when the organization’s third executive director took over – ARTS shifted from serving youth referred to for the purposes of healing, and adopted a place-based focus on the South Bay, and, more specifically, National City, to become a community center with a trauma-informed approach to arts and design education for youth and young adults.

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