With the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts due to take place in July, Solomon Islands are preparing performance and display sites in and around the capital, Honiara.

The Solomon Islands' National Festival Committee will have the opportunity to demonstrate at the 24th Council of Pacific Arts and Culture the progress made and what remains to be done before the Festival opens.

The Council, which will convene in Honiara 27th -29th March, is comprised of one representative of each of the 22 Pacific Island Countries and Territories that are members of the Secretariat of the South Pacific Community (SPC), as well as one representative each from Hawaii, Rapanui, Norfolk Island, New Zealand and Australia.

The theme for this year's Festival is 'Culture in harmony with nature'. "The meeting at the end of March is the host country's opportunity to explain what they have prepared in terms of the sites, accommodation, the opening ceremony, the closing ceremony; they are going to talk about all of those things," said Dr Elise Huffer, Culture Adviser of SPC's Human Development Programme.

"The host country organises everything, and SPC is a facilitator, helping them communicate with all participating countries, providing technical assistance. There are a whole lot of other things that SPC does across sectors such as health, agriculture, quarantine, water and sanitation."

An SPC health team that has been working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to support the Ministry of Health in its preparation for the Festival will continue to work with the Ministry, up to and during the Festival.

While the Council was originally established to have oversight and give direction to the Festival, which was first held in 1972 and takes place every four years, its role has expanded over the years.

Also on the Council's agenda is a review of the progress countries have made in the development of cultural policies, as well as a review of progress in the areas of cultural industries and cultural heritage mapping.

Heritage mapping is a way of identifying a community's traditional resources, whether these are food crops, fishing methods, significant sites, carving, weaving, dances or songs, for example, and the process feeds into the development of national policies to preserve and promote a country's cultural heritage.

Pacific Island countries contain a wealth of traditional knowledge and practices, but there is a need to balance the protection of this storehouse of knowledge with ways in which artists, for example, can derive economic benefits from the practice of their art.

"The Council members review cultural protection and development in their own countries and learn from each other. For example, how they can enhance this from the marketing point of view so that it is to their advantage; or the protection point of view, to minimise outside exploitation and promote culture on their own terms," said Dr Huffer.