The Board of Directors of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles on Thursday announced the appointment of Leslie A. Ito as its new president and CEO.

She will begin her tenure on March 4.

Leslie Ito

Ito has deep ties with the community and the JACCC, and brings that perspective along with strong leadership in the promotion of arts and strengthening nonprofits. She has built her entire career focused on serving the community and making arts and culture accessible to multi-generational audiences.

“Leslie represents the next-generation leader with a deep understanding of arts programming and fund development for nonprofits, which is key to the revitalization of the JACCC,” said Sandy Sakamoto, chair of the Board of Directors. “We are very fortunate that in addition to these skills, Leslie has grown up in our community and has participated in many of our JACCC programs in her youth.”

Founded in 1980, the JACCC is the largest Asian American cultural center of its kind in the United States, a preeminent presenter of Japanese and Japanese American performing and visual arts, and a key anchor institution in the Little Tokyo community.

Despite recent challenges, the board sees tremendous opportunity to transform the organization by providing innovative programs to the next generation of audiences and believes Ito’s leadership will serve to reach the next level.

The organization’s mission to present Japanese art and culture remains relevant today and has been informed by a renewed vision to establish its place as a national portal for Japanese and Japanese American art and culture and a destination venue for Southern California, and secure long-term financial sustainability, according to the board.

“We believe Leslie has the leadership skills and the passion to fulfill the JACCC’s vision for the future,” said Jeff Folick, board member and chair of the nine-member Search Committee. “We had several excellent candidates, but Leslie’s vision for programming and reaching out to the next generation really caught our attention.”

“I am very excited about this opportunity to transform an institution that has meant so much to me,” said Ito. “The JACCC has played a major role in my life and the development of my cultural identity, and I hope to revive the organization so that it can have the same kind of influence and impact on the lives of my children and their generation.”

For over 14 years, Ito has promoted arts organizations with technical assistance and fund development in her various roles with the California Community Foundation, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and the Ford Foundation. She also served as the executive director of Visual Communications, leading a major leadership transition and strategic planning process.

A graduate of the Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders in Arts from Stanford University Graduate School of Business, Ito has a master’s degree in Asian American studies from UCLA, and a bachelor’s degree in American studies from Mount Holyoke College.

She was selected by the board after an extensive search conducted by the Search Committee, which was made up of both board and non-board members. The committee solicited applicants from networks provided by the community and reached out to community stakeholders to help conduct the screening process.

“I want to thank the hard work and thoughtful diligence by which the members of the Search Committee conducted the search,” Sakamoto said. “In addition, on behalf of the entire board, I want to express my appreciation to members of the community who devoted their time, lent their perspectives and helped to select Leslie as our new president and CEO.”

The board expressed its gratitude to Bill Watanabe for serving as the interim CEO and Debbie Ching for serving as the interim COO since September. Their leadership and nonprofit experience was invaluable in maintaining the work of the JACCC while the search for a new CEO was under way under difficult circumstances.

“We thank them deeply for their belief in the JACCC, the passion and commitment by which they served, and their hard work and support to keep the JACCC strong,” said Sakamoto.

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