Little Tokyo Service Center CDC

Funding Received: 2015
Los Angeles, CA

This is one of six organizations participating in the Community Development Investments (CDI) program.  For more information about the program itself, click here.

Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) was established in 1979 to provide linguistically appropriate and culturally sensitive social services for the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA and the Japanese American community.

LTSC’s most recent response to changes and challenges currently facing Little Tokyo has been to explore the ability of creative strategies to amplify our work. 

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Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) was established in 1979 to provide linguistically appropriate and culturally sensitive social services for the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA and the Japanese American community. Responding to the changes and challenges facing Little Tokyo over the years, LTSC has grown in size, scope, and breadth, including the establishment of a community development arm of the organization. 

Today LTSC has over 100 paid staff.  Our major areas of work include real estate development, social services, children & family services, tenant services, and community organizing & planning. To date, LTSC has developed over 800 units of affordable housing and 125,000 square feet of community commercial space in 27 properties and with 15 community partners. Every year, LTSC serves 10,000 clients - including Japanese-Americans and other Asian and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, as well as residents of all ethnic backgrounds in Little Tokyo and surrounding areas of Central and Downtown LA. 

LTSC’s most recent response to changes and challenges currently facing Little Tokyo has been to explore the ability of creative strategies to amplify our work. Recognizing the limitations of traditional community development approaches, LTSC evolved to incorporate arts and culture into its ongoing work by developing creative strategies to enhance the effectiveness of our efforts. This significant shift in organizational approach marks a vision that includes deeper collaborative work with local organizations. This vision is based in the belief that harnessing the breadth of abilities of artists and cultural practitioners will further empower the Little Tokyo community and accelerate our work towards the community’s vision for the neighborhood. 


LTSC hosted a community forum to kick-off the CDI program in October 2015.  Click here to view the program from the event and you can watch the video below.



Established in 1884, Little Tokyo is Los Angeles’ second oldest neighborhood and the largest of four remaining Japantowns in the United States.  Little Tokyo has evolved into a hub for Japanese American culture where traditional cultural producers, contemporary artists, religious practitioners, activists, and community developers are using art to advance their mission, work together in a diverse socio-cultural ecosystem.

Throughout its history, the neighborhood has survived waves of displacement that threatened its very existence. Those included the forced removal and incarceration of people of Japanese descent during World War II and the demolition of whole tracts of housing, businesses, churches, and temples that occurred during the city’s urban renewal and Civic Center expansion of the 1950s through 1970s. Most recently, the market rate housing boom in Downtown LA has made the neighborhood less accessible to people of all but the highest incomes. Commercial rents have also risen, forcing out longtime small business owners. 

Due its history of racism and external pressures,  Little Tokyo has developed a tradition of grassroots organizing. Arts and culture has always been central to that tradition. From Toyo Miyatake’s surreptitious photography of the internment camps to the community’s creation of artistic and cultural institutions, Little Tokyo has long fought to establish and preserve spaces in which to document and express its own experience.  Today, stakeholders are using creative placemaking strategies to increase the effectiveness of community  development work -- and to fight for a version of Little Tokyo that is consistent with their vision.  

Last Updated: January 2018

Little Tokyo and other ethnic enclaves across the nation are experiencing displacement and cultural erasure. Working with arts and culture is a response to the limitations of LTSC’s current approaches to addressing those challenges - leveraging Little Tokyo’s legacy of arts and cultural activity to maximize our ability to build and sustain community.

Art reaches across borders, connects people from all backgrounds, and conveys information in a way that is understandable, memorable, and provocative.  Integrating art and community development creates opportunities for empowering communities, increasing accessibility for residents and visitors, and sustaining the core identity of culturally and historically important neighborhoods.

LTSC has embarked on a series of arts and culture based projects through a new initiative called +LAB which emphasizes community-focused experimentation and collaboration. +LAB connects with partners and collaborators in Little Tokyo to identify areas of concern for the neighborhood and develop creative solutions to these problems. +LAB staff, who are a sub-set of LTSC’s community planning and organizing team, work with artists as key partners in designing creative strategies, engaging them in each project to ensure optimal engagement and effectiveness.

Through these collaborations and partnerships, +LAB has completed projects that have advanced our community development goals.  During these processes, we have learned the importance of involving artists, collaborators, and partners early in the process to ensure that arts and culture are integrative rather than additive.  One key example of these partnerships is Sustainable LIttle Tokyo (SLT).  SLT is a coalition of community institutions in Little Tokyo, of which LTSC plays a lead role. In 2013, with input from more than 200 community members, SLT developed a plan that reflects the community’s aspirations around equity, affordability, transit, arts, culture, environmentalism, commerce, and growth.  The goals in this plan are to create a framework for creative placemaking work, and consequently are also the backbone for much of LTSC’s local partnership work.

The first challenge we sought to address was in partnership with SLT and focused on preserving and elevating treasures of Little Tokyo as identified by community members. In the face of gentrification, it was deemed imperative to capture as much of the essence of this historic cultural neighborhood as effectively as possible.


Takachizu, derived from the Japanese words takara (treasure) + chizu (map), is a community asset mapping project that identifies and reflects on that which is most valuable, celebrated, and in need of protection in Little Tokyo.  Community members were invited to share items of historical and personal significance to add to an evolving temporary exhibition.  The project lives on in the form of zines on topics ranging from the history of First Street North to ghost stories about Little Tokyo and an online archive The project was housed at the future site of the Terasaki Budokan, a sports and recreation center in Little Tokyo slated to open in Fall 2019.

Senior Portraits

Prior to the launch of Takazchizu, the +LAB team was invited to add an artistic element to the “Senior Appreciation Day” event. What began as a simple photography project blossomed into a local exhibit and moved into a larger collaboration.

In honor of Senior Appreciation Day, +LAB collaborated with LTSC’s Social Services and Community Organizing departments as well as Las Fotos Project, a non-profit, community-based photography program whose mission is to bring about positive change for teenage girls facing adversity, to interview and photograph seniors living in Little Tokyo.  These portraits were exhibited as part of the Takachizu project and featured as part of local radio station KCRW’s “Going Gray in LA” series, which maps stories of aging through an 18-mile stretch of working class neighborhoods in East and South Los Angeles.   The photos continue to be sought after for use in community outreach and campaigns.

First Street North (FSN)

#MyFSN is a neighborhood campaign that celebrates the only historically preserved block in Little Tokyo through community-based arts, awareness and engagement. The campaign highlights how the First Street North (FSN) block is critical to the past and future of the neighborhood, while promoting a community vision for FSN. The overarching goal of FSN related projects are to urge the city of Los Angeles to ensure the block is developed in way that is consistent with the community’s vision.

Poster Contest

+LAB and FSN stakeholders organized a poster contest where artists had the opportunity to craft a design that displayed FSN history, advocacy or activism as it pertains to the block, and/or a vision for the future of the block. Posters were placed in storefronts along First Street North enabling those who frequent the block to learn about the block on which they are shopping, walking, living, or eating. The contest was open to visual artists and poster design workshops were held with local residents to give them an opportunity to submit. The contest resulted in a diverse set of submissions and submitters including residents, long-time community members, activists, and artists not known in the community.

Launch Projects

+LAB provided support to three established cultural organizations in Little Tokyo - East West Players (EWP), Japanese American National Museum (JANM), and Visual Communications (VC) - to pursue projects activating First Street North. All programming served as remembrance of the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 permitting the Secretary of War to prescribe military areas which initiated the unjust incarceration of Japanese, German, and Italian Americans to internment camps. EWP invited local residents and schoolchildren to attend free performances of “Residence Elsewhere” while JANM executed “Moving Day,” an outdoor public art installation of Executive Orders and series of public programs.  VC recreated Bronzeville, Little Tokyo through performance, virtual reality and projection mapping technologies. Bronzeville was a period during World War II, after the forced removal of Japanese Americans, where the was a significant influx of primarily Black Americans who made Little Tokyo their home.

Sake Festival

+LAB also contributed to LTSC’s 11th Annual Sake and Food Tasting event, held on July 21, 2017. The event was entitled “Sake at First Street North, Little Tokyo,” and drew attention to the #MyFSN campaign through a multimedia installation, designed to inspire guests to re-imagine the First Street North block.  This project was our first extensive internal collaboration and allowed us to build interdepartmental relationships. 


+LAB encouraged artists and businesses to become involved in community development efforts through the creation of four unique placemats highlighting the history and importance of First Street North.  Each placemat was interactive, inviting restaurant patrons to photograph their food or create origami.  These placemats were designed by local artists and distributed to businesses along First Street North as well as the wider Little Tokyo small business community.


Selected California artists (including at least one artist from the Little Tokyo community) from multiple disciplines will collaborate with local arts organizations to create artworks and projects promoting community engagement and creative placemaking strategies around the broad theme of “Community Control and Self Determination.” The selected visiting artists will be hosted by local arts organizations;  participating organizations include the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, the Japanese American National Museum, Sustainable Little Tokyo, and Visual Communications. Integrating art and community development in this residency provides the opportunity to empower Little Tokyo, increasing accessibility, and sustain the core identity of this culturally and historically important neighborhood.

LTSC Arts Integration

This project aims to integrate creative strategies into LTSC’s everyday work. In addition to designing arts experiences for staff, the +LAB team is also co-creating projects with artists and departments to address a challenge of their choice.  Through interdepartmental collaboration, +LAB aims to increase organizational cohesion and strengthen internal goals through innovative arts-based strategies and solutions. in addition to developing creative strategies it is vital to also support and bolster existing ideas and projects among staff that include arts and culture as part of the process to achieve a departmental goal.  


See below for recent updates, press, and events from this project

May 19, 2020
Longtime residents will tell you that Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo almost died in the 1990s. Lasting physical and psychological scars lingered from unjust incarceration during... Read More
May 6, 2020
A deeper look at the lessons one housing organization learned after receiving a multimillion grant to integrate arts and culture strategies in its work. Has... Read More
Jul 27, 2018
In 2015, the Obama administration, in one of its major arts policy achievements, announced a three-year $3 million grant to the Little Tokyo Service Center... Read More
Jul 19, 2018
On May 1, 2018, a painter, a writer-performer, a calligrapher and a filmmaker checked into a hotel in Little Tokyo. But this is not a... Read More
Jul 19, 2018
Olivia Henry (@livmqhenry) is an engagement editor at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, advising California-based journalists who want to collaborate with the communities... Read More
Aug 24, 2017
MUFG Union Bank, N.A ., today announced it has awarded $3.345 million in multi-year funding to 57 nonprofit organizations that focus on expanding access to... Read More
Aug 14, 2017
T he Terasaki Budokan isn’t the largest project in Downtown Los Angeles. In fact, if you run down the more than 100 developments either under... Read More
Jul 14, 2017
On August 3, elected officials and community members will congregate on a parking lot in Little Tokyo to officially break ground on the Terasaki Budokan . Read More
Mar 9, 2017
Stadiums, art museums, high-end restaurants, luxurious condos – the telltale signs of gentrification. Read More
Jan 10, 2017
In the wake of rapid gentrification, an organization in Los Angeles leverages the arts to celebrate a community’s rich heritage and keep social equity as... Read More
Oct 24, 2016
Takachizu on Los Angeles Street seeks to record community memories and mementos. Read More
Oct 4, 2016
Two controversial and little-seen documentaries that foreground the struggles and consequences of Little Tokyo redevelopment in the 1970s and 1980s will be screened as part... Read More
ArtPlace America’s Community Development Investments (CDI) program provides funding and technical assistance to community development organizations who haven’t previously had a significant history of working... Read More
Greetings from Little Tokyo LA, I’m Dominique Miller the Planning Administrator at Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC). I was hired about a month ago as... Read More
Announcement/Community Forum Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) officially kicked off its ArtPlace Community Development Investments (CDI) Program grant at a community reception on October 19,... Read More
Jan 26, 2016
Diversity in Los Angeles is a core value. The city has residents from more than 140 countries who speak 86 languages. It's full of diverse... Read More
Sep 9, 2015
On Aug. 31, President Obama announced that Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) is one of six organizations selected to participate in the ArtPlace America Community... Read More
Over the first three weeks of October, the participating organizations of the Community Development Investments will hold community forums to introduce this program to local...Read more
It’s not often that you get to spend a month on the road with your coworkers! During October, Jamie B, Prentice, and I shared many...Read more
At this year’s ArtPlace Summit, we talked often about tapping into the authentic identities of our individual communities as part of our creative placemaking work...Read more
We are now almost six months into the Community Development Investments program and our six community planning and development organizations have been hard at work...Read more
In the wake of rapid gentrification, an organization in Los Angeles leverages the arts to celebrate a community’s rich heritage and keep social equity as...Read more
Today we announced an $18 million investment in six place-based organizations around the country to incorporate arts & culture into their community development work. In...Read more
The ArtPlace America Virtual Summit is a celebration and culmination of a decade of work. As part of our blog series focusing on our BIPOC...Read more
ArtPlace is pleased to announce the 21 finalist organizations for the new Community Development Investments (CDI) program! In August of 2015 we will fund one...Read more