Leslie Ito photo courtesy of JACCC
Leslie Ito. photo courtesy of JACCC

LOS ANGELES — The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center’s board of directors announced the appointment of Leslie A. Ito as its new president and chief executive officer. She will begin her tenure on March 4. Ito has “built her entire career focused on serving the community and making arts and culture accessible to multi-generational audiences,” the organization said in a statement released Jan. 31.

Bill Watanabe and Deborah Ching have served as the center’s interim CEO and interim chief operations officer since Aug. 28, 2012. They assumed those roles following the resignation of Greg Willis as president and CEO on Aug. 22.

The former Toyota executive left the center “after it was learned that a French court had convicted and sentenced him in absentia in 2009 for ‘possession of stolen property, misuse of corporate funds and bankruptcy by diversion,’ according to the newspaper Le Monde,” the Rafu Shimpo reported in August of 2012.

“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,” Sandy Sakamoto, chair of the board, said in a statement.

“I am very excited about this opportunity to transform an institution that has meant so much to me,” Ito said. “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 more than 14 years, Ito has promoted arts organizations, providing 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 leadership transition and strategic planning process.

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

The JACCC board expressed their appreciation for Watanabe and Ching’s support during the transition period.

Founded in 1980, the JACCC describes itself as the “largest Asian American cultural center of its kind in the United States,” and “a pre-eminent presenter of Japanese and Japanese American performing and visual arts and a key anchor institution in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo community.”

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