Museum to focus on finances

Times Staff Writer

The Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, struggling with the challenges of an aging donor base and fundraising difficulties, will focus on regaining financial health as it ushers in a major leadership change, a spokesman said this week.

Irene Y. Hirano will step down as chief executive of the Little Tokyo museum but remain as president and launch a major fundraising campaign. Hirano, who will conclude her tenure in 2009 after 21 years of service, has announced she will marry Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii).

The museum’s senior vice president, Akemi Kikumura Yano, will assume CEO duties today. Kikumura Yano formerly taught anthropology and ethnic studies at USC and UCLA.


The museum, incorporated in 1985, has grown to 20,000 members nationally and overseas and is now one of the Japanese American community’s most prominent institutions. But in recent years, it has struggled financially, taking on new debt while its major donor base of second-generation Japanese Americans now in their 80s and 90s shrinks, spokesman Chris Komai said.

The museum is particularly aiming to pay down its $10-million debt, most of it incurred to finance the 1999 construction of its main pavilion, so it can reduce its $400,000 annual debt service payments, Komai said.

Like other Japanese American institutions, the museum is faced with how to appeal to a rapidly changing community. More than one-fourth of California’s 400,000 Japanese Americans reported being of multiracial descent in the 2000 census, the highest proportion among major Asian American subgroups.

To attract more supporters, Kikumura Yano said the museum would continue to broaden its reach. Recent exhibits on multiracial Americans and cutting-edge Asian American art drew in some of the museum’s largest crowds, she said. The museum hopes to continue appealing to new audiences and younger generations with exhibits on Asian American pop culture and other contemporary topics.

But Kikumura Yano said the museum would also stay faithful to its original mission of showcasing the history and culture of the Japanese American community.

“It’s a little tricky -- we’re trying to build a new audience and bring on a new generation of donors, but we don’t want to turn off our old audience,” Kikumura Yano said.