Little Tokyo Service Center (Los Angeles, CA)

Organization and Community

The mission of Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) is to provide a comprehensive array of social welfare and community development services to assist low-income individuals and other persons in need, contribute to community revitalization and cultural preservation in Little Tokyo and among the broader Japanese community in the Southland, and to provide these resources to neighboring Asian and Pacific Islander and other low-income communities. They also focus on promoting community control and self-determination in Little Tokyo with their community partners. Responding to the changes and challenges facing Little Tokyo since its founding, Little Tokyo Service Center has grown in size, scope, and breadth, including the establishment of a community development arm of the organization.

Little Tokyo Service Center’s major areas of work are: real estate development, social services, children and family services, tenant services, and community organizing and planning. To date, they have developed over 800 units of affordable housing and 125,000 square feet of community commercial space in 27 properties and in collaboration with 15 community partners. Little Tokyo Service Center serves 10,000 clients annually, 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 the surrounding areas of Central and Downtown Los Angeles.

Art and Culture Approach

Little Tokyo Service Center has responded to the gentrification and displacement pressures its community is currently facing by exploring creative strategies to amplify the impact of their work. They used the ArtPlace CDI opportunity to incorporate arts and culture into some of the most important efforts underway to protect and grow the neighborhood. This significant shift in organizational approach marks a vision that includes deeper collaborative work with local arts and culture organizations, many of with whom Little Tokyo Service Center has had a long-standing relationship.

Much of their approach is occurring under the umbrella of +LAB (“Plus Lab”), which is the organization’s effort to incorporate collaborative and experimental creative strategies into key community development efforts in Little Tokyo. +LAB works to advance equity, sustainability, community empowerment, and cultural vibrancy within a community of color. Under the auspices of +Lab, Little Tokyo Service Center has undertaken a wide variety of projects that bring artists, and arts and culture strategies, into community development work with their partners.

In addition, +LAB has designed art experiences for staff to co-create projects with artists and departments to address a challenge of their choice. +LAB is also intended “to increase organizational cohesion and strengthen internal goals through innovative arts-based strategies and solutions.” On an ongoing basis, +LAB is managing an annual artist residency program in which select California artists (including at least one artist from the Little Tokyo community each year) from multiple disciplines will collaborate with local arts organizations to create artworks and projects promoting community engagement and creative placemaking strategies on broad community development themes.