See the Best Children’s Art in the State in “My Culture, My Family, and Me” at HiSAM

The Hawai‘i State Art Museum’s latest exhibit showcases the Young Artists of Hawai‘i.


Kayley Yu Hisam Philip Lemoine

Kayley Yu, “Celebrating Happy Chinese New Year and Moon Festival With Family and Friends,” Noelani Elementary, Grade 5. Photo: Philip Lemoine



Children’s artwork is filled with a pure expression like no other: A sense of wonder and joy shines through bright colors and a desire to share what they are feeling with everyone. You can see this firsthand with the Young Artists of Hawai‘i 2021 exhibition, full of bold visions that come straight from the hearts of Hawai‘i’s students in grades K-6.


Established in 1998 and presented by the Hawai‘i State Foundation for Culture and the Arts and Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, Young Artists of Hawai‘i was developed in cooperation with the Department of Education and Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools as an annual student art competition and exhibition open to all public and private schools, as well as home-school students. Since 2018, selected works from the competition have been displayed each year at HiSAM. Replicas of student works are also on display for an entire year at the Hawai‘i Convention Center in the Pa Kamali‘i Courtyard.


Adia Irwin Hisam Lisa Shiroma

Adia Irwin, “Bon Dance,” Hanahau‘oli School, Grade 3. Photo: Lisa Shiroma



This year’s exhibition, My Culture, My Family, and Me, gives keiki an opportunity to creatively express how they feel, see or interpret their experiences. “Hawai‘i has one of the most diverse populations on the planet and it’s paramount that our kids are given the agency to explore their personal identities through creative and engaging activity,” says HiSAM project manager Kamakani Konia. “While students are creating these works of art for the competition they’re also having deep and meaningful conversations with their loved ones about their family history and cultural heritage and to see those stories come to life on paper is really inspiring. By hosting this exhibition both at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum and the Hawai‘i Convention Center, these kinds of personal connections are shared within our communities and with visitors from around the world.”


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For Konia, there is a huge rush of nostalgia when he sees the exhibition each year. “I’m a proud alumnus of Pearl City Highlands Elementary School and every time I see the art I’m immediately transported back to the hanabata days of sham battle and asking my friends for snacks at recess.”


Antonio Ledesma Hisam Lisa Shiroma

Antonio Ledesma, “Hiking a Mountain,” Island School, Kindergarten. Photo: Lisa Shiroma



To guide students’ creative process, teachers asked: What does your culture mean to you? What does your family mean to you? How does culture influence you and your family? These are deep questions for students at that age, but important ones—for us as adults too.


Tasked with jurying this year’s competition were three professional teaching artists who work with the HSFCA: Steven Kean, Zoe Liu and Denise Karabinus. They were responsible for whittling down 392 entries to 96.


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Emi Sylva Hisam Philip Lemoine

Emi Sylva, “Sophisticated Hula,” Maryknoll Grade School, Grade 3. Photo: Philip Lemoine



Of all the origin stories from these young budding artists, one in particular stands out for Konia. “‘History of Pedro’s’ by Zandyn Pedro (a sixth grader at Maryknoll Grade School) was one of my favorites this year. There are so many colorful characters featured in this grand, sweeping narrative of a mixed-plate kid growing up in Hawai‘i that I can immediately identify with and it’s one of the reasons why I enjoy it so much. Having these kinds of shared experiences in our exhibitions is really important and we hope that other audiences will be able to have these same kinds of moments of feeling seen and represented within works of art.”


Zandyn Pedros Courtesy Hisam

Zandyn Pedro, “History of Pedro’s,” Maryknoll Grade School, Grade 6. Photo: Courtesy of Hawai‘i State Art Museum



The pandemic is largely absent from the works of the students even though many of the works were created at home during the distance-learning period. Says Konia: “I think many of the artists were sticking to just creating work specifically for the theme, so the pandemic didn’t come up too often in those conversations.”


Exhibition runs through June 25 at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum, 250 S. Hotel St., open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m.–4 p.m. (closed on Memorial Day), free admission,, @hawaiistateartmuseum


Lisa Shiroma


Lisa Shiroma is a correspondent for HiSAM and is an artist and art educator. Lisa is the former owner of the HiSAM Museum Gallery Shop, which she ran with partners Aly Ishikuni-Sasaki and Travis Sasaki from Mori by Art + Flea from 2017 to June 2020.