Leslie Ito in front of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)
Leslie Ito in front of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Rafu English Editor in Chief

Eight months into her new job, Leslie Ito, CEO and president of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, will offer a progress report next Tuesday on the status of the cultural center. The annual membership meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. in the Garden Room.

“What I’m really hoping is that people will come out and hear the progress we’ve been making and the vision for the future. I also want to use it as an opportunity to thank people personally for their support during such challenging times,” Ito said, in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo.

Last November, a capacity crowd attended JACCC’s annual public meeting held in the wake of the controversial departure of its former CEO, Greg Willis. The center reported at that time of financial difficulties, including a deficit of approximately $2 million. Ito said she will be offering an update on the center’s financial status at the meeting.

“There continues to be a sense of urgency, that’s going to part of my message. This is not a time to sit back and say we have a leader in place and now everything’s OK. We’re still facing some critical financial challenges,” Ito said.

While she expects fewer people to attend Tuesday’s meeting, Ito said she hopes the community will come out to share their vision and ideas for the future of JACCC.

“For me, Tuesday night is a really important milestone because I feel it is our chance to really show that we’ve turned a corner and are headed in the right direction,” Ito said.

Among the accomplishments Ito cited in her first year, were new programming such as the Live at the Aratani concert series, and “Remember Sadako,” a week-long series that paid tribute to the atomic bombing victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The traditional teahouse, once in storage, has also been taken out and given a new home on the first floor.

“I see it as a laboratory for practice of calligraphy, ikebana and tea. The three really function interchangeably,” Ito said.

The JACCC CEO also announced that Grammy Award-winning artist Daniel Ho is working with the center to create a school for ukulele instruction. Ukulele classes have been ongoing since October and on Jan. 28, the JACCC will host the L.A. Ukulele Expo.

“There are community centers all across the Southland. The JACCC is a place where we slightly kick it up a notch,” she said. “The theater is here, with it is a professional performing arts stage, which is little bit different from performing in a gym, or social hall or temple. We can really premiere and showcase on a professional level.”

Ito said that JACCC sees its four key constituents as Sansei baby-boomers, multi-ethnic families with young children, Shin-Issei and Shin Nisei communities, and downtown residents.

“We’re looking at those four groups because there are a lot of opportunities to draw them in in ways that we haven’t done before,” she said. “We’re also looking at customer service and what it means to have good customer service in a Japanese American context, serving a multiethnic, multigenerational community. I’m pushing for us to be honest and respectful, responsive, friendly and team-oriented.”

To RSVP for Tuesday’s meeting, contact Janet Hiroshima at (213) 628-2725 or jhiroshima@jaccc.org. Seating is limited and reservations are required.

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