Year 26 of The Peacemaker Awards

| February 3, 2014 | 0 Comments


A Reason To Survive (ARTS) Founder and CEO Matt D’Arrigo will be honored at the Peacemaker Awards.

A Reason To Survive (ARTS) Founder and CEO Matt D’Arrigo will be honored at the Peacemaker Awards.

Mimi Brodsky-Chenfeld, a nationally noted early childhood educator, says on her phone answering message, that she’s “… out, sorry, still searching for peace in the world.”

In San Diego, at least, she’s got good company, as the National Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC) announces its 26th Peacemaker Awards, dedicated to a similar search. They’ll present their finds on March 1, 2014.

Congressman John Lewis of Georgia will receive NCRC’s National Peacemaker Award. Long noted for his passionate activism in civil and voting rights, his life-long commitment to justice and non-violence, he reminds – no, implores – us, that today …”there is still more work to do!”

A Reason To Survive (ARTS) – an organization that helps 2,500 youngsters annually cope with grief, anger and hopelessness through arts-based programs – will earn NCRC’s local Peacemaker Award. Immersion in the arts, contends founder/CEO Matt D’Arrigo, not only diverts kids from gangs, drugs and assorted violent activity, but provides them a safe haven as well, in ARTS’ new National City center.

Matt D’Arrigo expanded on the organization and its unique way of seeking peace.

LW: You created ARTS in the wake of your own family’s crises. Were arts your own source for ‘a reason to survive?’

MA: I was an artist from a young age and always went to my art to feel better, express myself, to find hope. Then, when a freshman in college, both my mother and sister were diagnosed with cancer – and our whole world turned upside down. I stayed home in Boston that year to help my family care for them. Every day, I went to my room, put on music, painted – and my whole outlook brightened. One day it just struck me how powerful it was. I knew it would work for other kids facing their own pain! I sat down and created a little plan for a non-profit organization that would provide a safe place for kids to escape and express themselves – an Arts Center. I even came up with the name – A Reason To Survive (ARTS) at that same sitting. It was all very powerful and clear – at 19 years old, I had found my purpose in life.

LW: Were you already an artist/musician? Have you had any other career?

MA: I knew I was going to start ARTS, but wanted to wait until I felt ready to fully commit. I held a few odd jobs after college – then moved to San Diego in 1997 and worked for Pacific Event Productions for about three years as an artist, designer, and manager of their scene shop. In 2001 I took the leap, and launched ARTS.

LW: Give us a short description of ARTS and its mission.

MA: ARTS is dedicated to giving kids the ability, opportunity and resources to embrace the power of art. We provide arts programs that heal, inspire, and empower youth facing adversity. More: we use their creativity to prepare youth emotionally, socially, academically, and with the skills needed to succeed in life. We run a 20,000 square foot ARTS Center in National City, provide artists-in-residence to partner sites and schools, and transform communities through our community art initiatives.

LW: The complexity of artistic expression ARTS offers kids is pretty amazing; seems a lot to coordinate!

MA: It’s a lot, but our amazing team makes sure all the trains are running on time! We feel it’s really important to offer a wide variety of creative opportunities for youth; provide choices when they really don’t have many choices in life. They may find their “voice” in visual arts, or music, or dance, photography, etc. each kid is different. Our program model and methodology is very thoughtful and purposeful with measured outcomes to ensure we are making a positive impact in these kids’ lives. We have 12 full and part time staff, about 30 paid teachers, and lots of volunteers to make sure we carry out our mission every day.

LW: How do kids come to you, find you? All ages?

MA: ARTS serves 5-23 year olds facing some sort of adversity – socio-economic, self-esteem/image issues, abuse, homeless, foster care, juvenile court, etc. We work with social service agencies, schools, and families to identify kids. We have an application, interview, and placement process to ensure we are serving the right kids in the right way.

LW: Are arts are your only “therapy,” versus, say, mental health, medical services?

MA: We have a licensed clinical social worker on staff, and rely on partners and professionals here to refer students and provide them with help they may need: mental health, healthcare, food/shelter, etc.

LW: How much time do children spend with you?

MA: ARTS is designed as a sequential model that can follow kids as they grow and meet certain benchmarks and outcomes we track internally. The longer a student is in the program, the deeper the impact we can have. A student can be in our program from elementary school through college if they wish.

LW: I’m guessing that virtually every kid has a dramatic story …?

MA: All our kids carry some sort of story –most are very personal – ones they never fully share. Most have their own case-worker, therapist, counselor, etc. Our job is to use the arts as a vehicle to build trusting relationships, redirect behaviors, and create pathways to success. We celebrate success everyday – from kids smiling after a tough day to kids getting accepted to college or appearing on “The Today Show.”

LW: Last year, ARTS earned an Oscar for the film, “Inocente” (“Best Documentary, Short Subject”) dramatizing the experiences of one homeless 15-year old. How did the film come about? What impact has the Award had on ARTS – and, where & how is Inocente – and her family – now?

MA: In 2009 I received a call out of the blue from film makers Sean and Andrea Nix Fine. They saw a statistic – that one out of 45 children in America is homeless. They wanted to tell that story through the eyes of a homeless teenager, one who dreamt of being an artist. When they read an article online about ARTS, the rest became history. It’s been an incredible year, putting ARTS in the national spotlight and given us a national voice. With it has come many opportunities and plenty of responsibility. It has definitely helped our fundraising, but not as much as people may think. What it has done has given validity to our program and opened doors that may have been harder to open before, We can also leverage the exposure for long-term sustainable growth by offering consulting, coaching, and trainings for others who want to do what we do. And, Inocente? She is doing well, on her own, pursuing her dreams and – no longer homeless.

LW: How is your funding going?

MA: We really took a hit during the recession. We learned a lot of lessons and have now built our earned revenue base so we are less reliant on donations and grants. Our earned revenue went from zero percent to now, about 30 percent of our budget. Donations and grants continue to do well. We are currently raising $4 million to ensure we meet the goals and objectives of our five-year strategic plan. San Diego has many generous families, companies, and foundation – we’re lucky to receive their support.

For more information and tickets for the Peacemaker Awards, visit, click on ‘Peacemaker.”


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