This blog is part of a series of posts highlighting the 10 inaugural grantees of the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund.

A Place for Art in the South Bay

Conceived by Matt D’Arrigo in 1992, A Reason to Survive (ARTS) came to be as both his mother and sister battled cancer. Painting and music were his ‘reason to survive,’ especially once his mother passed. He took that one step further and aspired to provide that same opportunity to other youth facing critical life challenges. In 2001, he officially founded ARTS with the philosophy that arts can heal.

More than two decades later, ARTS has transformed from a therapeutic arts organization into a place-based, creative youth development organization. Their new mission is to lift young people in the South County region of San Diego to become confident, compassionate and courageous community builders through the transformative power of creativity.

Using Music to Make an Impact

Nestled in the heart of National City, ARTS primarily serves San Diego’s South Bay region from Barrio Logan to San Ysidro. As a creative youth development organization, the organization partners with youth and the community through meaningful arts experiences that mobilize creative energy for positive change.

“Our impact is best seen, best felt in people’s lives in growing self-confidence, compassion and being courageous. At the heart of this is the collaboration, mentorship, and relationship-building that takes place between teaching artists and youth,” said James Halliday, Executive Director of ARTS.

The ARTS organization uses a range of hands-on art programs to introduce students to their creativity – including music.

“Music has been a part of ARTS since its earliest days as an organization – whose roots are a form of healing, coping and understanding oneself in the world,” James said.

A Reason To Survive

ARTS bridges integral music partners with South County youth through intentional programming that provides the equipment, access and education necessary for students to learn and grow through music. Partners include the Young Lions Jazz Conservatory and Art of Elan.

Through the Young Artists in Harmony program, a partnership with Art of Elan, students learn the art of composing. Student composers can share their work with experienced musicians.

“Young Artists in Harmony is more empowering,” said Kate Hatmaker, Executive and Artistic Director at Art of Elan. “We’re, in a very collaborative way, enabling young people to find their voice through music. To have an idea and see it through to complete takes a whole heck of a lot of resilience, grit and other things you don’t learn in a lot of places.”

One student, Isaac Fortunato, believes the program has made a significant impact on his growth artistically.

“I had never finished a piece before,” he said. “I had ‘composed’ a lot before. I had never done that before this program. Getting direction and decisiveness – I definitely feel like I have a lot more confidence in myself.”

Student to Mentor: Coming Full Circle

At ARTS, it’s not uncommon for former students to become mentors themselves. David Rich started at the organization as a music student, learning guitar.

“I’ve had some amazing opportunities to work with professionals, but I wanted to give back. It’s been incredible and really rewarding,” David said. “Music education is really paramount to a person’s well-being. It’s the one thing I think of in the arts that helps actualize identity and foster what it means to be a person in this world.”

ARTS is an inaugural grant recipient as part of the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund and a partner of the San Diego Foundation Expanded Learning initiatives – like Level Up SD.

A Reason To Survive

About the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund

In February 2023, Jay Kahn, a local entrepreneur and music lover, donated an unrestricted $100 million cash gift to San Diego Foundation – the largest-ever gift of its kind to a local nonprofit. Thanks to his generosity, SDF created the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund, which will perpetually benefit San Diego.

The first grants from Kahn’s gift, which is the third-largest gift of its kind to a U.S. community foundation, include $150,000 unrestricted grants to 10 San Diego-based music education nonprofits to advance their work in the community. The grants intend to grow music appreciation in San Diego in memory of Kahn.

One of the inaugural Jay Kahn Endowment Fund grantees is A Reason to Survive (ARTS). Its mission is to lift young people in the South County region of San Diego to become confident, compassionate and courageous community builders through the transformative power of creativity.

Jay Kahn was born on February 23, 1932, in Benton Harbor, Michigan, to a recently immigrated German father and his second-generation wife. Jay left Benton Harbor just out of high school after receiving a full scholarship to study clarinet at the University of Texas, Denton. Though he didn’t finish the program, classical music, specifically chamber music for winds, remained a lifelong passion of Jay’s. He played in several ensembles around San Diego, including orchestras at UC San Diego and the University of San Diego.

Learn how you can give with San Diego Foundation.