The Institute for Arts & Media has over one million images produced by Los Angeles-based photographers that document the social, cultural and political lives of minorities in Los Angeles and the Southern California region between the 1930s and the present. The archives contain one of the largest collections of African American photographers west of the Mississippi and the most extensive collection in Southern California.

In addition are the collections of Edward Alfano; David Blumenkrantz, documenting various regions of Africa; Herb Carleton, covering the San Fernando Valley; Emmon Clarke, containing extensive documentation of the United Farmworkers organization and César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Gibert Padilla, Luis Valdez and other leaders of the union and its members; and Richard Cross, documenting the wars in El Salvador and Honduras, the Afro-Columbian community Palenque de San Basilio (near Cartagena), Cuba, the Masai and the Maya refugee camps in Mexico.

The Institute has a Border Studies Collection that examines the issues surrounding the border between the United States and Mexico. Through photographic collections, oral histories, manuscripts, videos, newspaper archives and guest lectures issues such as immigration, human rights, globalization, and economic violence are examined.