After two years, the annual Flame Tree Arts Festival has made its return to the CNMI.
The crafts in this post’s featured photo were displayed at Nature’s Treasure’s booth at the 2022 CNMI Flame Tree Arts Festival.
A Bit of Flame Tree Arts Festival History
Initiated by the CNMI Arts Council in 1981, the Flame Tree Arts Festival is a 3–4-day event celebrating the Pacific islands’ native arts, music, crafts, and dance in accordance with the council’s goals as follows:
- Increase support for CNMI artists of all mediums
- Improve exhibiting program and facilities, including the development of galleries on all Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, and a permanent event site
- Ensure that the folk arts of the CNMI thrive
- Ensure that the arts play an important role in the life of the entire community
- Support arts in education in the duration of the entire school-life of our students
- Ensure accessibility to arts programs for people of all abilities
- Support traditional canoe and navigation programs
- Ensure accessibility by underserved communities to arts programs
To this day, the festival welcomes families and friends to enjoy a weekend browsing and supporting the hundreds of paintings, jewelry, photography, ceramics, and sculptures crafted and designed by local talented artists.
Along with the artwork display, attendees are able to enjoy a variety of local dishes, beverages, and snacks catered by some of the island’s renowned vendors, as well as feel energized by the live entertainment featuring local music and dances.
Know Before You Go
THE FESTIVAL IS TYPICALLY HELD ANNUALLY IN APRIL
It was on hold in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, and its dates have shifted towards the end of April 2022.
PARKING, ENTRANCE AND WATCHING PERFORMANCES ARE FREE
Artworks and meals are available for purchase at prices determined by the artists and caterers. Also, park at your own discretion.
WEAR COMFORTABLE CLOTHES
The festival gets crowded and there is a lot of walking and/or standing around. Many people, including myself, show up in the most casual outfits and that’s completely normal.
MY RECOMMENDED ATTIRES: I am in no way a fashion person. The options below are ones I have or would wear to this type of outdoor festival. As always, attend the festival in whatever outfit choice you feel comfortable in.
TOPS – T-Shirt // Short-Sleeved Blouse // Cardigan
DRESSES – Summer Dress
BOTTOMS – Shorts // Leggings // Long Jeans or Pants
FOOTWEAR – Socks // Flats // Boots // Sneakers
JEWELRY + ACCESSORIES (OPTIONAL) – Necklace // Earrings // Hat // Watch // Mini Purse // Handbag // Backpack // Belt
MY OPPOSED ATTIRES
Heels – The festival is often held on grassy and uneven land with many walking and/or standing involved.
Scarf – Too hot to wear.
Sunglasses – The festival often starts in the early evening, when the sun is up just enough to still create light, but not burning enough to pierce the eyes.
Thick jackets – Too hot to wear.
Anything too tight or bright – Again, the temperature gets pretty hot to wear anything tight, and unless you want to stand out in the crowd, feel free to wear something bright.
Long, flowy skirts or dresses – They will most likely get accidentally stepped on.
As far as I’m aware, this is the only form of payment method that all vendors accept. Previous years required attendees to exchange cash for tokens as forms of payment. Token exchange booths are located at the festival grounds should they be the form of payment again in the future.
PACK A HAT OR UMBRELLA AND/OR WEAR A HOODIE
Saipan weather is often fickle. It might be clear skies for one minute and then rain heavily within 15 minutes. Since this festival is held outdoors, and the tents can only hold a limited amount of people, it’s best to be prepared in case of sudden rain.
BRING YOUR OWN WATER BOTTLE
Not all vendors offer drinks. If you want to skip the hassle of waiting in line for another 10+ minutes, a personal water bottle (or other outside drink of choice) is recommended.
BRING ONLY YOUR ESSENTIALS
The essentials may include, but are not limited to, a wallet (with cash), car key, hand sanitizer, reusable water bottle, face towel, chapstick, face mask, umbrella, and portable phone charger.
LEAVE NOTHING BUT FOOTPRINTS
Be considerate and clean up after yourself. There are trash bins designated all throughout the festival grounds.
HAVE FUN, STAY SAFE
2022 Flame Tree Arts Festival
The 2022 CNMI Flame Tree Arts Festival was celebrated as the 39th, 40th, and 41st editions after the two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the Flame Tree Arts Festival was combined with the Marianas Ukulele Festival and was held for the first time at the Sugar King Park and NMI Museum grounds in China Town, Saipan.
The Marianas Ukulele Festival began the festivities and ran between 2:00 PM – 4:30 PM. The Flame Tree Arts Festival started afterward and ran between 5:00 PM – 11:00 PM. Both of the festivals were held on all three days from Friday, April 29 – to Sunday, May 01.
The food vendors and live entertainment were stationed at the Sugar King Park, whereas the artists’ booths were located at the NMI Museum grounds.
I had the chance to attend the 41st Flame Tree Arts Festival on Friday (8-8:30 PM) and Sunday (6 – 8 PM). My first impression was that the people of the CNMI, including myself, had definitely missed one of the biggest festivals in the Pacific.
I was interested to see how the event would turn out, especially because it has been two years since the previous one and five years since I personally attended one. Also, it was being held at a different location.
With the festival making its return, I was expecting a huge turnout, with parking spaces probably going to be a challenge of their own.
On the first evening of the festival, it was pretty packed. I attended the festival with a friend, and we parked at the Garapan Fishing Base, which was one block away from the art booths and two blocks away from the food vendors and entertainment.
After minutes of walking up a short hill and avoiding traffic, I finally saw the first half of the festival – the art booths. To be honest, my attention was not focused on the art booths this year. I skimmed through the booths as I was walking through, but I didn’t stay for very long at each one.
As I made my way towards Sugar King Park, where the food vendors and live entertainment were, I was getting excited. I was starving. And I was secretly hoping to see any of my old friends (spoiler – I did not achieve this last part).
My energy ran out quickly as I was making my way through the food vendors though. The area was insanely packed, and I felt as if I was in a can of tuna, all smooshed up. The lines were insanely long and a bit confusing if I didn’t keep my eyes focused on where people were lining up. I was looking more at the ground to make sure I didn’t stumble and fall.
After about 15 minutes of navigating my way through the maze of attendees, I went towards the live entertainment area. I’ve always admired local entertainment, but at that point, I was so tired from being surrounded by a crowd, especially days after being couped up in my room, that I only stayed to watch for about five minutes.
And after 30 minutes, we left the festival. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to try any of the dishes, but my exhaustion got the best of me, and I could not handle any more accidentally bumping into people.
Surprisingly, my friend and I thought that someone was looking out for us that night because a couple of minutes after we left, we got word that it began raining. We peeked outside the window of the restaurant we decided to eat dinner at, and sure enough, it was raining in that area as well. It didn’t last the entire night, but we were still happy to not have gotten wet from the rain that night.
On Sunday evening, another friend and I met at an earlier time. And because we met earlier, I was able to find a parking spot that was much closer to the festival. We zoomed right past the artists’ booths (sorry) and made our way to the food vendors.
The lines were shorter compared to Fridays’, but we still had to wait between 15-30 minutes for both of the lines we went through.
On this night, I was happy to get a 4-choice meal from Furusato Restaurant, my go-to restaurant whenever they’re available at any festival. I was also excited to try some BBQ from the restaurant that I could not find the name of when we were lining up. My friend and I actually wanted chicken BBQ sticks, but they were not available. I didn’t want my 30 minutes of waiting in line to go to waste, so I got the regular chicken BBQ, and it was *chef’s kiss*.
I really wanted to get Pearl Shakes (our island’s version of Boba) as well, but that line seemed endless, and I no longer had the patience to wait it out.
By that time, we had been at the festival for about two hours, but it felt like most of that time was spent waiting in lines.
We didn’t watch any of the live entertainment because we were focused on the food and because we had not seen each other in years, we also wanted to simply catch up.
WHAT I LOVED ABOUT THE 2022 FLAME TREE ARTS FESTIVAL
Food Vendors – I thought the caterers this time around were terrific. I absolutely loved being able to get my hands on Furusato’s dishes once again, and I got to try a booth that I’d never tried before.
Artists’ Booths – Even though I didn’t go through them longer, I will always have a huge appreciation, admiration, and support for artists and their creative work.
Cash Payments – Being able to use cash instead of changing it for tokens as payment was much more convenient and less time-consuming.
WHAT I MISS AND THINK COULD BE IMPROVED FOR FUTURE FLAME TREE ARTS FESTIVALS
Parking – As parking spaces closer to the festival grounds were limited, and numerous attendees had to park at the Garapan Fishing Base, I would have appreciated it if traffic assistance was also provided in one section of Beach Road between the base and Kristo Rai Church so as to allow attendees to cross in a safer manner.
Venue – I found the venue to be too claustrophobic. The artists’ booths were fine, but when it came to the food vendors, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I kept on accidentally bumping into people and vice versa. Also, because it is called the FLAME TREE Arts Festival, I would really love to see the festival surrounded by Flame Trees as, for me, it complements the theme and I find them beautiful to look at while walking around.
I love celebrating the Flame Tree Arts Festival.
It’s always been one of the events I look forward to every year.
I enjoy being able to attend with my family and friends, walking around, looking at the artwork, eating delicious foods, watching live entertainment, and having a good time.
If you’re on the island when the festival is occurring, I highly recommend attending it. It’s a lovely way of getting to know the CNMI’s people, culture, and heritage.
What are you most looking forward to when attending the CNMI Flame Tree Arts Festival?