ARTSea Cafe 2008

“POP!” goes the art Saturday at 6pm as A Reason to Survive hosts its fourth annual ARTSea Café fundraiser, once again at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla. Two artists and 12 performing chefs are slated as the evening’s entertainment, along with music by the 80Z All Stars, at this year’s pop art-themed gala.

ARTS is a non-profit organization that uses art to help children dealing with adversity, founded in 2001 by Matt D’Arrigo after art and music helped him deal his mother and sister’s simultaneous cancer diagnoses in the early 1990s.

“We are here to provide the supplies and equipment, the volunteers and support, the structure and curriculums for the children to create on their own and share the same experience I did,” said D’Arrigo.

D’Arrigo founded the organization with $5000 and a book on starting a non-profit seven years ago. Now he is one of San Diego Magazine’s 50 People to Watch in 2008, among several other accolades, and the organization is hosting events like ARTSea Café, which in previous years has netted a total of $240,000 for the program.

“I have seen ARTS grow from a one-room office with solely outreach programs to a 7,000 square foot facility with classes here every day,” said Jenna Mohler, events and marketing coordinator for ARTS. “I think that ARTS offers such a different and valuable program to these kids, allowing them to express themselves through art, no matter what they are feeling. It is such a great feeling to see what I do directly affects the kids, growing them personally and giving them a sense of self-esteem and self-worth.”

ARTS accommodates children facing anything from terminal illness to divorce to a deployed military parent, but there’s not really any other requirement such as financial need. Any child from any income bracket or background can qualify.

“The children have to be facing some kind of difficulty,” said Dana Nitti, ARTS development director. “We keep that pretty broad. It’s about the emotional needs of the child, not financials.”

Once children qualify for, or are referred to the program, according to Nitti, they get started in all kinds of free art classes, rotating through the various media available at the Pat D’Arrigo ARTS Center, ARTS’ own facility at the Naval Training Center Promenade in Point Loma, which opened a little over a year ago. The center was named for D’Arrigo’s mother, who died of cancer less than a year after being diagnosed. Children can get involved in the visual arts, performance arts, and literary arts. Some homeless teens have even been hired to work in the children’s art gallery and framing business run by the center.

In addition to artistic resources, ARTS now has a shuttle service to bus children to Point Loma from any of their more than 20 partner sites, which include the Ronald McDonald House, Rady Children’s Hospital, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Linda Vista, among others. This shuttle service, dubbed Van Go, provides yet another level of assistance to the 25,000 children who have been served by the organization.

Rob Tobin, painter and ARTS’ Artist in Residence, was one of the program’s first volunteers seven years ago, having worked with D’Arrigo at Pacific Event Productions. When they opened the center, he said, they needed a full time artist and he just fit.

“[My job is to] teach kids, do community projects, murals, mosaics, drive the Van Go, take out the trash – anything that needs doing,” Tobin said.

How can an organization that provides so much on a $600,00 budget still afford to host a gala like ARTSea Café? Connections.

Scripps Institute of Oceanography has been the venue every year, at least partly because ARTS Board Member and ARTSea Café Event Chair Jill Hammons worked for more than 25 years as director of special events at Scripps.

The performing chefs and artists are mostly returning volunteers also.

“The only non-volunteer [entertainment] is the band,” said Nitti.

The art programs have directly benefitted from these partnerships as well. Two years ago Studley, a Del Mar-based consulting firm, donated 25 new Dell computers to ARTS for use in their administrative offices and media arts lab.

“We bought these computers to use at our annual company meeting and were hoping to identify an organization in San Diego that could truly benefit from receiving them as a donation,” said Michael Colacino, the president of Studley, in an interview with the San Diego Business Journal.

Having this kind of assistance from community businesses allows ARTS to put a greater percentage of the funds raised on Saturday to good use.

ARTS anticipates over 300 guests at Saturday’s event, much like last year, and hopes to raise $100,000. Tickets for ARTSea Café are $150 per person and can be purchased at

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