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Culture Report: Nonprofit That Rose to National Prominence Now Struggling to Survive

A local artist who spoke out against San Diego’s art scene is back in town, trying to bolster arts spaces; weed might be coming to a wedding near you and more in our weekly digest of the region’s arts and culture news.

ARTS A Reason to Survive

Community members and A Reason To Survive staff and board members met to discuss ways to keep the nonprofits arts organization afloat. / Photo by Matt D’Arrigo

For nonprofits, leadership changes can be jarring.

A Reason To Survive, or ARTS, a nonprofit youth arts education center in National City, was close to being shuttered after its founder and CEO Matt D’Arrigo left his post in June.

Culture Report“It’s the classic tale of a founder transition,” said D’Arrigo, who’s back at ARTS as a part-time consultant until the nonprofit is on stabler ground. “But it’s not fully closed, they’ve just scaled operations way back.”

Since ARTS opened in 2001, it’s offered arts education and programming to underprivileged youth, mostly kids referred by social service agencies. In 2013, the nonprofit was catapulted into the national spotlight when a documentary about Inocente, a homeless teenager and artist who benefited from ARTS programs, won an Oscar.

ARTS moved into a 20,000-square-foot facility in National City in 2012, after five years at Arts District Liberty Station in Point Loma. The organization’s home has grown into a community hub in National City. It includes a performing arts center, a music room, industrial arts center, a library and offices.

Last year, ARTS announced a large-scale effort in National City to revamp public parks and other city-owned places by engaging residents with students and using art and design to quickly and creatively improve 30 locations in National City.

D’Arrigo said the city paid ARTS for its work, and that was one way he tried to diversify its revenue streams. But the nonprofit has long subsisted mainly on donations and philanthropy. ARTS grew so much, so fast, that sustaining its ballooning annual budget became difficult, D’Arrigo, and by the time he left over the summer, the group’s finances were suffering.

Marty Remmell, the CEO who took D’Arrigo’s place, left  on Oct. 20 after just four months on the job. On her LinkedIn profile, Remmell said that even after she got a sizable grant to turn the organization around, she recommended the “indefinite suspension of all operations and an organized closure” because of a lack of immediate general operating funds. In an interview, she said that the grant and other money the organization had in the bank was earmarked for specific programs and infrastructure and couldn’t be used on other costs to keep ARTS going.

D’Arrigo acknowledged that Remmell walked into a difficult situation.

“We never had a huge financial cushion,” D’Arrigo said. “Part of my burnout was that I was constantly on a hamster wheel of raising money. My job was constantly keeping it together … that’s one of the reasons I left. And it wasn’t as strong as was needed in order to successfully do a founder transition.”

D’Arrigo said ARTS will not close, though. He said the organization will soon emerge leaner, and with a tighter focus. He said the board is scheduled to approve a plan to get its programs and community art projects up and running again by January, and that ARTS plans to turn the city-owned building it rents into a “Creative Youth Development Hub.” The plan is to partner with another group, possibly an arts-based charter or trade school, to use the space during the day. He said they’re also working with the city to renegotiate the lease.

“The hope is that the rent will go away, and ARTS will provide more arts services to the community in exchange,” he said. “ARTS is not dead in the water. There’s momentum.”

You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.

Artist Who Criticized SD Arts Scene Is Back

Artist John Mireles left San Diego with a bang.

In an op-ed for Voice of San Diego in January, he berated San Diego’s art scene by explaining why he was leaving for New York City.

“We all know what makes San Diego a special city, but, unfortunately, when it comes to the visual arts, it’s a bit of a desert,” he wrote. “There’s really little opportunity for ambitious artists to grow artistically and succeed financially.”

He criticized San Diego’s gallery scene, the lack of serious art collectors and other aspects of the city that prohibit an ecosystem where artists can thrive.

Welp, Mireles is back – at least on a part-time basis. And now he’s opening a pop-up gallery in Logan Heights.

“I’m not going to lie, I missed San Diego,” he said.

The Tularosa Space for Art

The Tularosa Space for Art is a new pop-up gallery in Logan Heights. / Photo by John Mireles

Mireles owns the building at 2602 Imperial Ave. One of his longtime commercial tenants recently moved out, and as he was looking for someone to rent the space, he said the news that The Glashaus and other art spaces in Barrio Logan were closing spurred him to action. He said he plans to rent out the space eventually, but in the meantime, he’s using it to show art.

The monthly pop-up gallery is called The Tularosa Space for Art, and the first opening is scheduled for Dec. 15. The photographer said he plans to feature work by contemporary artists from San Diego and Tijuana.

The building, he said, has a lot of interesting history, including being the headquarters of the local Black Panther PartyMireles said he wants to honor that history by finding a long-term tenant who runs an arts or community-focused business or nonprofit. 

“I don’t want just some little shop in there, like a check-cashing place,” he said. “I love that building.”

Mireles said he doesn’t have any delusions of grandeur about how his little pop-up gallery can turn things around for San Diego’s art scene, which has long struggled to find its footing.

“Is San Diego ever going to be a great art town? No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a realistic goal. But I think it can be better, and we can make the best of what we have.”

Weed Weddings and More Arts and Culture News

• I wrote this week about the rise of “weedings,” weddings where weed, not alcohol, is the main social lubricant. What other cultural shifts can we expect as full legalization of cannabis in California goes into effect in January? Email me and tell me what you think.

A “budineer” by Leslie Monroy / Photo by Leslie Monroy

• The latest episode of Cura Caos, the VOSD Podcast Network show about movers and shakers on both sides of the border, features an interview with Seth and Alexis Sullivan, a Tijuanense couple who turns junkyard trash into treasures.

• It’s the one-year anniversary of the Voices of Our City Choir, a choir for people experiencing homelessness in San Diego. Steph Johnson, the San Diego musician who founded the group, is celebrating the anniversary with a holiday concert.

• Here’s your chance to see what graduating seniors from San Diego State University’s dance program can do.

• Artists Jason Sherry and Matt Hoyt have put on a weird, interesting performance art piece a few times before. It’s called “Talk Talk,” and it’s being staged again, this time at A Ship in the Woods in Escondido.

• Embroidery is punk rock. Just ask performance artist Claudia Cano, who’s hosting an embroidery workshop on how the medium can be used as a form of resistance.

• The Union-Tribune’s theater critic makes the case for adding theater to your list of holiday traditions.

• Speaking of holiday traditions, the Alpacas of San Diego ranch opens to the public during the holidays for tours.

• CityBeat arts columnist  concludes her series on funding in the arts by looking at crowdfunding.

I keep being wowed by the images on social media of artist Michele Guieu’s plankton installation at the gallery at San Diego City College. 

KPBS took a look at the San Diego African American Museum of Fine Arts and the San Diego History Center’s “Legacy in Black” exhibition.

• All the cool literary-types will be here Sunday for a reading series at Gym Standard in North Park.

• The annual Christmas “Messiah” Community Sing event is happening Sunday.

• If, like me, you’ve yet to cross one single gift off your holiday list, you’ll probably want to hit up a shopping event this week. Find one that speaks to you: here, here, here or here.

The NTC Foundation commissioned local scenic designer Jay Newington to create a new art installation in Arts District Liberty Station.

Food, Beer and Booze News

• A new cocktail supply store opened in North Park. (Eater)

• CityBeat breaks down a new Brewer’s Guild report that says local beer is bringing in a massive amount of money.

• The Reader breaks down a new report by the San Diego County Vintners Association that says wine is bringing in a massive amount of money.

The dudes behind Tijuana brewery Cerveceria Insurgente say repealing NAFTA would make their beer super expensive.

• If you like chili, you don’t want to miss the annual chili cook-off that happens on Thorn Street every year.

• A Valle de Guadalupe winemaker is using reclaimed water to grow his grapes. (Reuters)

• A food fest featuring Pacific Islands fare is happening this week.

Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at kinsee@vosd.org with arts and culture news and tips. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.

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