Emily Kiwa Tanaka

My art is inspired by the following. A love for the sea 🧜‍♀️. My Nikkei, Japanese-American culture 🍙. A fascination with architecture and Long Beach life 🌈. I was born n raised n lived here since the last century.  – Emily Kiwa Tanaka

Art Practice

Emily Kiwa Tanaka (Kiwa) trained for 12 years in Japanese brush calligraphy. From Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, she graduated with an Architecture degree. After an architecture career, her focus shifted.  She spends time making art and volunteering in her neighborhood. Kiwa’s art practice allows her to capture the ideas floating in her brain, experiment, and create things. Here’s a sampling of what she has done.


She created a large painted mural in California Heights Historic District. The mural highlights unique neighborhood icons and moments. Kiwa collaborated with California Heights Neighborhood Association and the local council office to complete this mural.  During the pandemic, she had the pleasure of painting a Little Free Library in central LB. She shares Long Beach’s aeronautical history on this mini project. For durability, she paints murals with Nova Color Acrylic Paint and multiple layers of Nova clearcoat.

Whimsical Illustrations

Researching a place’s history and transforming those stories into tiny whimsical illustrations is Kiwa’s specialty. Correspondingly, she uses the skills learned at the engineering office to play with scale. Then she plots enormous drawings or paints these small illustrations into large murals. Additionally, she enjoys coloring them with community members at public events. She has curated coloring activities at the Museum of Latin American Art and in Downtown Long Beach.

Storefront Activation

Kiwa participated in a 6-month vacant storefront art activation program.  Downtown Long Beach Alliance awarded a grant to fund this experiment. In Downtown Long Beach, she showcased her art process. The storefront setting provided the privilege and freedom to make so much art. An art show inspired by Long Beach was possible. She honored her great aunt Helen with a memorial as well. Kiwa is grateful for the significant gift of time to research and illustrate DTLB architecture. Halfway through the program, a permanent tenant took over the space. As a result, this offered a chance to activate a second space which was quickly rented after her final 3-month activation.

Organizing Art Festivals

Kiwa is a City of Long Beach Neighborhood Leadership Program graduate. In fact, the grassroots training helped her organize five Long Beach Zine Festivals. With her fellow organizers they have been able to bring thousands of people together to celebrate zines in Long Beach. She is grateful to combine her love of art and community organizing with the fest. It warms her heart thinking about it.

Recent art projects by Kiwa include:

• find me monthly at Bixby Knolls First Friday’s #ArtistAlley or in the #Allery sharing my art
LA Metro – Through the Eyes of the Artist – Harbor GatewayOnboard LA Metro through March 2023
• ceramic wall hangings in shapes depicting my favorite things


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Contact Information

Emily Kiwa Tanaka
(562) 458-6509

Artist Links



Artist Work

Little Free Library @ 2539 Earl Avenue (2020)
Commission by Mendoza family to paint a Little Free Library that celebrated LB aeronautical history because their home is on the site of the original Long Beach Airfield. The back side shows a young Amelia Earhart. A quote honoring the family's patriarch is also shared on one side.

California Heights Mural - North End @ Orange & Bixby (2017)
Long Beach streets depicting Cal Heights neighborhood are depicted in this mural. I wrote a haiku celebrating this inspiration: california heights / fun bixby to wardlow lime / to gardenia map. Colors selected with approval from CHNA mural committee because this mural is in a historic district.

Magnolia Avenue Street Light Banners from W. 3rd to Anaheim along Magnolia (2012)
Partnered with representatives from the Willmore City Heritage Association to design a street light banner that represents Long Beach 1st Historic District. I sketched the home I stayed in at the time because it represented a typical house in the neighborhood, a modest California craftsman home from the late 1800's.

Community Coloring + Painting is Better Together! (2017)
(left) DTLB Farmers Market where I participated as an art vendor and shared a community coloring activity where participants could color a large art sheet together. (right) to kick off the Cal Heights mural project, neighbors and friends were invited to help prime the mural surfaces.