Your Life. Your Legacy. A Conversation With Leslie A. Ito.

Your Life. Your Legacy. A Conversation With Leslie A. Ito.

Leslie A. Ito is the President and CEO of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC), located in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. Founded in 1971, the JACCC is one of the largest ethnic arts and cultural centers of its kind in the United States. Previously, she was the Program Director for Arts and Health at the California Community Foundation. Before joining the Foundation, Leslie served as Director of Grant Programs at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.

Keep it Fresh.

Leslie Ito seems to be running a weekly triathlon. “Sometimes, I make three clothing changes in one day.” In a single day she can be expected to interact with a variety of people at community events, business meetings, and perhaps an evening gala.

This is the full and electrifying life of a local cultural leader and activist. She has found her niche as the President and CEO of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC).

Leslie’s art skills were honed as a child. Since she showed little athletic ability, her mom supported her in all things art. With Asian American studies as her focus in graduate school, she was able to delve deeply into this social movement. While at the Ford Foundation in New York, Leslie was able to think about the role that arts and culture played in communities across the country. Now the JACCC exemplifies the heart of all these principles: the creation and maintenance of a knowledgeable, strong, supportive, and diverse community. As such, the JACCC represents a space where “arts, culture and community” can come together.

At her core, Leslie believes that the essence of philanthropy is to “build bridges in social movements.” Having met and spent time with Asian American social leaders and advocates, Leslie feels that she and her peers have a responsibility to represent their ideals, share their legacies, and pass along their philosophies to the next generation. These younger people of color will be tomorrow’s philanthropic leaders, and Leslie sees herself as an integral part of the transfer of perspectives and principles.

Building on this view, people form the core of Leslie’s work. Being an arts administrator allows for work and collaboration on a common agenda. According to Leslie, people are the most “challenging and rewarding” aspect of her current position. What does she find special and rewarding? Working with older donors, hearing their stories and experiences, and helping make sure their narratives are continued in their philanthropy. Leslie uses the skills she learned as a fundraiser and grantmaker to continue their legacies—to ensure that the ideas and philosophies of her donors are put in place in a contemporary environment. What’s challenging? The ever-developing and evolving world of nonprofits. As the sector grows and becomes ever more professionalized, there is a need to keep staff, supporters, and donors up-to-date on current regulations and best practices.

Personally, Leslie practices philanthropy in small ways, especially with her children. It’s important to her to support her children’s philanthropic learning and giving. Additionally, as a Stanton Fellow on a research project sponsored by the Durfee Foundation, she is exploring how culturally specific arts organizations “redefine and re-center themselves in our changing social context…. How do communities of color, who currently work on the margins, adjust in these changing times when we are the majority?” In this way, Leslie’s philanthropy is both “professional and personal.” Her research continues to explore the lessons she originally learned while participating in the Getty Foundation’s Multicultural Undergraduate Internship program. It was here that the light bulb went on—a realization that she could use her knowledge and appreciation of the arts as an as an arts administrator.

Leslie brings her varied experiences in the arts as a grantmaker, fundraiser, and an administrator to her current setting. It is these previous experiences that have allowed her to create a skilled, professional, and passionate environment at the JACCC. She is conscious of building a diverse and excellent team, recognizing donors as supporters and partners and being aware that management and administration in the nonprofit space is always changing and improving. Her attitude is aways “keep it fresh.”

Leslie Ito interviewed in Getty Internship 20th Anniversary video blog (starting at 2:20).

 

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