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Finnish ECoC candidate Oulu 2026: By changing the cultural climate, we can make Europe a better place to live

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The Finnish winner of the European Capital of Culture title will be known in 2 days (the 2nd of June)! We are excited to introduce you to the last Finnish ECoC candidate – Oulu 2026. The main concept of their Bid Book is called “Cultural Climate Change” and according to their words it’s about reconnecting with the world around them and creating a new sense of togetherness – all in a sustainable way.

For the team Oulu 2026 Erika Riekki answered our questions about the candidacy, city, places worth seeing and much more! 

team Oulu 2026, photo credit: Harri Tarvainen

Hi, Erika. Could you Introduce yourself as a team member and your city in a few sentences? 🙂

Hi! I’m Erika, one of the producers on the Oulu2026 team. My priorities are on the international partnerships of our projects.

Oulu is a seaside city surrounded by nature with a population of about 250,000. For a while now, it has been largely known for technology rather than culture. It is time to change that.

Your final Bid Book has a concept “Cultural Climate Change”. Could you tell us more about it?

Cultural Climate Change is about reconnecting with the world around us and creating a new sense of togetherness. We are looking for solutions on how, through culture and arts, we can reunite people, improve the mental atmosphere and increase cooperation throughout Europe in a sustainable way. By changing the cultural climate, we can make Oulu, Northern Finland and Europe better places to live.

The Air Guitar World Championships – celebration of love and peace – the culmination of the world-wide season of air guitar gathers only the best to the battle in Oulu, already for the 24th time in August 2019, photo credit: Sanna Krook

What was the biggest challenge you, as a team, had to overcome in the project so far?

There is a lot of misunderstanding around the European Capital of Culture competition. Many people have a limited understanding of the topic which leads to misconceptions such as that we are competing against all the cities in the EU for the title. These assumptions have had to be corrected. After people have been informed and understand what this is really about, we have been able to gain their support.

How did covid affect the process of your candidacy? What obstacles or opportunities did covid bring to your project?

We began preparing our bid for the European Capital of Culture in 2017. Since it was very early on, we have had the time to visit cities around Europe to build those face-to-face connections. It is unfortunate that due to the pandemic we have not been able to continue meeting each other in real life nor have we had the chance to experience what each city has to offer. Since being forced to move all communication online, we have adapted and continued keeping in touch with our peers around Europe.

We have explored the opportunities provided by technology to increase accessibility and reach among other things. We have ensured that each project in our cultural programme has a plan B. Overall, the pandemic has made us look at things from a new perspective. 

photo credit: Kati Leinonen

If our team was planning a road trip and had a day to spend in your city, what places shouldn’t we omit?

To get the most out of the day in Oulu, you should take a cycling trip around the city to see sights and places such as the Toripolliisi sculpture, the beautiful island of Pikisaari and the nature of Ainola Park. The day would end in a floating sauna where you can have a dip straight into the river.

Yet, Oulu also has many interesting events around the year so I would highly recommend checking what is going on around the time of your visit.

Toripolliisi sculpture, photo credit: Kati Leinonen

What will be the first thing you do on June 3, the day after the jury decides what finnish city wins the ECoC title?

Regardless of the decision made, the day will be filled with emotions. Something to cool down will be necessary whether that be a dip to the sea or an iced coffee. 🙂

photo credit: Sanna Krook

Why should your city be chosen as European Capital of Culture 2026?

There is a real need for the title in Oulu. Through the years we have chatted to numerous citizens, beginning with children, who have assisted us form the clear plans we now have in place for changing the cultural climate. We do have the capacity to deliver these plans and after being part of the cultural programme team, I would love to see the amazing experiences our cultural operators have created being enjoyed by the whole of Europe and wider.

Erika, thank you so much for your time and answers!

You can find more information about Tampere 2026 candidacy at