Visual Communications


Asian Pacific American media arts organization based in Los Angeles that produced early films and exhibitions that touched on the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans and that holds a large collection of photographs, film and video, and oral history. It is the oldest Asian Pacific American media organization in the United States.

Visual Communications (VC) was founded in 1970, and has played a key role in the development of Asian Pacific American (APA) cinema since. The impetus for its formation was the production of a pioneering photographic exhibition on the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans, bringing together the core group of founders. VC began searching for visual resources to build the consciousness of Asian Pacific history in America, fueled by the escalation of the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements. Through 1971, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) provided financial backing to operate VC. Their first office, at Jefferson and Crenshaw Boulevards, was next to the Gidra newspaper office. (Gidra, published from 1969 until 1974, was a monthly newspaper that dealt with Asian Pacific American community events and other related issues and themes.) After its incorporation as a nonprofit in 1971, VC began creating educational learning kits, photographing community events, audiotaping stories, and collecting historical images of Asians in America. Their first project was a traveling photographic exhibition of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II titled "America's Concentration Camps". Educational kits were also produced for kindergarten through the sixth grade. The kits consisted of story books and game boards to teach Asian American history and introduce an Asian American perspective into the public schools systems.

VC's primary role in the 1970s and 1980s was in training, development, and the production of honest images of Asian Americans. The organization also trained participants in the business and professional aspects of the film industry. In 1980, VC produced Hito Hata: Raise the Banner, arguably the very first full-length narrative feature film to be created solely by Asian Pacific Americans.

Through the 1990s and 2000s, VC transitioned from a film production collective to a full-service media arts center. While VC still produced films, they also provided support services for Asian American artists and filmmakers, workshops and trainings for the community, and more presentation opportunities for independent media in Los Angeles.

 In 1998, VC moved into the Union Center for the Arts in the Little Tokyo area (the former Union Church building that was built in 1923), sharing the building with East West Players and L.A. Artcore.

Under Steve Tatsukawa, VC presented the first Asian American International Film Festival at a newly opened Japan America Theatre in Los Angeles Little Tokyo in October 1983. The festival become known as The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, which has grown to showcase the artistic achievements of many media artists of Asian Pacific ancestry. In 1977 Linda Mabalot would join VC and in 1981 would be the co-administrator with Nancy Araki, and in 1985 was selected to by the executive director of VC. Mabalot would guide VC through its most financially difficult times and was able to preside over the growth of the organization. Mabalot passed away in 2003. Leslie A. Ito would become the next executive director of VC but would resign to become the executive director of the Japanese American Community and Cultural Center (JACCC) in Los Angeles Little Tokyo. Ito was followed by Shinae Yoon. In April 2015, Francis Cullado was selected as the executive director.

VC materials have been used in numerous films, videos, educational materials, publications, and major photographic exhibits across the United States. Throughout their history, VC programs have evolved to meet the changing needs of a diverse Asian Pacific Community of over twenty different languages, cultures, and nationalities. The organization has created award-winning productions, nurtured and given voice to youth, promoted new artistic talent, presented new cinema, and preserved visual histories. Media education has also been a fundamental part of VC's mission, and the organization has trained many filmmakers in the use of both traditional and new media, providing an outlet to share these stories with their communities.

Throughout VC's history, its board of directors and staff saw the need to collect and maintain a photographic collection and archives. The VC Archives is recognized as one of the nation's most comprehensive repositories of 20th Century Asian Pacific American history with unique holdings in historical stills and moving images and oral histories. The holdings include over 300,000 photographic images, 1,500 titles in the Media Resource Library, 100 films and videos produced by VC, and over 1,000 hours of oral histories. The VC Archives is unique due to the diversity of its collections in pan-Asian content, its variety of formats and subjects, and the number of items that are under VC ownership. The collection's focus on Asian Pacific communities in the U.S., though specific, affirms a culturally pluralistic view of American society. This view resides in the heart of VC's mission—to promote intercultural understanding through the preservation of our cultures, communities, and histories in America.

Authored by Lewis Kawahara

For More Information

Official website: http://www.vconline.org/alpha/cms/.

Esaki, John, and Amy E. Kato. "VC—A Quarter Century in Little Tokyo." In Nanka Niikei Voices: Little Tokyo: Changing Times Changing Faces. Los Angeles: Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California, 2004. Republished in Discover Nikkei, May 8, 2014.

Gong, Stephen. "A History in Progress: Asian American Media Arts Centers, 1970-1990." In Moving the Image: Independent Asian Pacific American Media Arts. Ed. and introd. Russell Leong. os Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center and Visual Communications, Southern California Asian American Studies Central, Inc., 1991. 1-9.

James, David E. "Popular Cinemas in Los Angeles: The Case of Visual Communications." In The Sons and Daughters of Los: Culture and Community in L.A. (Edited by David E. James; Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003):

———. The Most Typical Avant-Garde: History and Geography of Minor Cinemas in Los Angeles. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.