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Finnish ECoC candidate Saimaa-Ilmiö 2026: Post-pandemic world needs peace and sustainability -things that are characteristic for Eastern Finland

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This year, besides one Slovak city, one city from Finland will also become the holder of the European Capital of Culture title. In the next interviews, we will be introducing all 3 Finnish finalists and the projects they are applying for the title. Unlike us, in Finland the final Bid Books (applications) have been successfully submitted and the winner of the title will be decided this summer.

We interviewed the bid book writer of the Saimaa-Ilmiö team, Anne Leinonen, who is in charge of social media communication. How will her first day after the announcement of the result look like? What is the main theme of their project and what places should you not miss on a road trip through their city? Keep on reading. 🙂

Team Saimaa Phenomenon 2026

Anne, your project is called Saimaa-Ilmiö2026 (Saimaa Phenomenon 2026) and you are running for the ECoC title together as the whole region, which has chosen the city of Savonlinna as its representative. Could you tell us more about your cooperation?

Yes, our bid is not just city of Savonlinna, it started as a cooperation between the Eastern Finnish provinces of North Savo, South Savo, North Karelia and South Karelia and included four central cities in Joensuu, Kuopio, Lappeenranta and Mikkeli alongside Savonlinna. With the provinces, all 53 municipalities in the region with their cities and nearly 700,000 inhabitants are involved in our joint effort.

In the end of April you submitted your final Bid Book, with the main concept being “The Art of Living”. Can you please explain this concept to us?

The post-pandemic world needs peace, clarity and sustainability. Exactly the things that determine eastern Finland and the lives of the people living here. We have the skill of living that we want to share with the rest of the world. And what exactly is the art of living? Our art draws its power from water and the forest, although we do not always want to admit it ourselves. The most important artistic values of our program are authenticity, boundary, relationship with nature and feeling.

Savonlinna forest, photo credit: City of Savonlinna

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

Getting to the second round. We started our bid in 2018, which made the preparation time relatively short. Fortunately, there was enough enthusiasm and willpower so that we made municipalities, regions and people stand in support of the project.

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

The physical meetings were transformed into virtual meetings, but it was a kind of an advantage because people were able to participate in our meetings and workshops extensively from our large area. The pandemic brought a change of thinking with it: we want to bring out Saimaa’s nature and unique culture, but we don’t want any big spectacle, but rather a small cultural programme that comes to the skin and builds from doing things together.

Our spectacular culture cubicle, located in the city center during the darkest time of the year, adapted to the pandemic situation in each location according to safety regulations. The container served as an exhibition space, podcast point and performance stage, among other things.

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

Medieval Olavinlinna castle and Riihisaari museum are definitely a must places. Olavinlinna is open to the public and in July there are internationally acclaimed Savonlinna Opera Festivals and many side events. Riihisaari – Lake Saimaa Nature and Museum Centre provides various themed exhibitions by the Savonlinna Provincial Museum and Metsähallitus (the Finnish Forest Administration). And there are plenty of opportunities to go to the lake, as Saimaa starts right next to the market square and you can get on a cruise from its pier.

Steamship S/S Punkaharju, photo credit: City of Savonlinna
Olavinlinna Castle in Illumination Festivals, photo credit: City of Savonlinna

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

Celebrate the day, and then we continue to work hard. But we do everything with Eastern joy. When you laugh at least once a day, it keeps you refreshed.

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

We are truly different. We have extensive regional cooperation behind us. We built our artistic program on encounters, collisions of small events, and a unique experience. Our region needs this title more than the other candidates, as we are at a migration loss and an economically declining region.

Thank you, Anne, for the interview!

You can find more information about Saimaa-Ilmiö 2026 candidacy at