FestPac 2020: Pacific Nations Convene in Honolulu

Feb 14, 2020

If you love the Pacific islands, don’t leave Honolulu in June. Twenty-eight Pacific nations will be represented here at a mammoth gathering of tribes. The Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture has grown to include political, scholarly and business concerns as well. Hawai‘i has been sending groups to these gatherings since 1976. But FestPac 2020 marks the first time Hawaii is the festival host.

Senator Kalani English represents the State's 7th District, he's Majority Leader of the Senate, and Chair of the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture Commission. His degrees are in Pacific Island studies, and he worked for the Federated States of Micronesia as they transitioned to independence. He is a member of the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures, which will be convening in Honolulu during PacFest 2020.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

“The homeland is coming to Hawai‘i. This is considered the Olympics of the Pacific.”

Senator Kalani English is Chair of the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture, or FestPac, Commission.

“It’s to celebrate the fact that we are all one people in the Pacific. But, the underlying theme is climate change, and the survival of our islands into the future.”

FestPac is set for June 10-21, 2020 in Honolulu, and could draw up to 22,800 delegates. FestPac has its long-term aficionados, and another ten to twenty thousand visitors are expected to attend. FestPac happens every 4 years. On Guam in 2016, ninety thousand people participated in some way. It also cost Guam about 18 million dollars.

“I would say we have enough to cover the expenses, now we’re raising money to do the other things we need.”

Senator English says fundraising is ongoing to allow Neighbor Island involvement, for example, or extended outreach. The legislature has committed 2.4 million dollars to FestPac, the Convention Center is kicking in half a million in cash and in-kind. The City of Honolulu is a major sponsor, covering security, logistics, and more. Opening ceremonies will be at Iolani Palace, and delegates will be welcome in the Kamehameha Day Parade. Homebase is the Hawai‘i Convention Center.

"One of major outcomes we’re hoping for from this Festival of Pacific Arts is that Hawai‘i reintegrates into the Pacific and the Pacific reintegrates into Hawai‘i," says English. "It’s an opportunity to realign with the region and start working closely with our neighbors.”

According to English, after starting with a cultural focus in 1972, FestPac gradually expanded over the years.

“It has evolved to not only a cultural event but also a business, political, and economic one. A lot of business people come along because, think about it, twenty-eight countries in one spot. What would take you two months of travel in the region, you can get done in one day because everyone is here.”

English is sure Pacific countries will be looking for ideas here, on coral bleaching, sea level rise, housing, and more. The Association of Pacific Island Legislatures will convene alongside FestPac, bringing elected and traditional leaders to town.

The FestPac Commission is monitoring reports from the Centers for Disease Control, which is expecting the Corona virus to peak in early March. Organizers are also concerned about measles, and precautions will be taken.

Planning for Festpac has prompted evaluation of Hawai‘i’s role in the region.

“We have to show a modern vibrant city," says English. "We have to show Hawai‘i as a multiethnic, multicultural place in the middle of the Pacific. We went from trying to recreate what was there, to say, we’re going to showcase Hawai‘i.”

Come June, if all goes well, a Pacific Village will spring up on that promenade fronting the Convention Center.