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’s 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’s 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’s 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’s 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’s story is proof that ARTS is making a difference, and will continue to do so for San Diego’s youths. (619. 297.2787, www.areasontosurvive.org) RYAN THOMAS