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New Director at Pasadena’s Armory Center Seeks to Impact Community Through Art

Published on Monday, August 6, 2018 | 5:17 am
Leslie Ito is scheduled to take the helm at Pasadena's Armory Center for the Arts on September 4.

The Armory Center for the Arts, one of Pasadena’s most influential art institutions, is welcoming its first new executive director in 17 years to guide the organization into the future.

Leslie Ito will take the helm at the nonprofit on Sept. 4, according to the Armory. She is a South Pasadena resident and comes to the organization following a five-year term as President and CEO of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in L.A.

It’s something of a homecoming.

“I’m born and raised in Pasadena. And I took classes at the Pasadena Art (Worskshops)… the precursor to the Armory Center for the Arts,” she said.

“I have over the years been attending exhibitions and really admired the work that the Armory is engaged in, and really through this process, I’ve become aware of the breadth of its work, which is really exciting and intrigues me,” Ito said. “Particularly the angle of social justice and bringing together artists to make changing community.”

Ito replaces Scott Ward, who retired in late June.

Armory Finance and Operations Director Slade Bellum, along with Communications Director Jon Lapointe are serving as interim co-directors in the meantime, and will be helping Ito during the transition process, according to the organization.

Prior to leading JACCC, Ito headed the Japanese-American Cultural and Community Center in Little Toyko, as well as the nation’s oldest Asian-American media arts organization, Visual Communications.

“I’ve also worked on the philanthropy side,” Ito said. “I’ve worked for the Ford Foundation and the L.A. County Arts Commission and the California Community Foundation.”

Ito said she has no immediate plans to implement any major modifications to the Armoy.

“My personal approach is to really go in and learn and listen before making drastic changes,” she said. “And I think Scott Ward, in the 17 years that was there, built a really strong foundation for the organization. And so I really want to learn more in depth, what the organization has been doing, who the key players are and really listen to understand the needs of the community that we’re serving, and then go from there.”

As far as a broader vision, “The roots and the values that I come with are that artists and the arts can play a pivotal role in community building and community empowerment and really building a more just and equitable world through the arts,” Ito said.

“The Armory does a lot of work in the underserved areas of Pasadena. That will continue to be a focus as well as working with the incarcerated youth,” she added. “Not many people know the entire breadth of what the organization does in terms of being in all the parks and [recreation] centers in Pasadena, working with several different school districts and also working with incarcerated youth. It’s all part of the mix. The programming is diverse and I’m excited about that.”

“What is also exciting to me about the Armory is not just that Pasadena’s my home, but also that Pasadena has all, has always, had arts and culture at its center that has a very well-developed philanthropic community that supports the arts,” Ito said. “It’s a really exciting and interesting ecosystem to work with.”

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