My Oulu: The European Capital of Culture title has already opened doors to international cooperation for Oulu

Culture Next conference has also time for therapy sessions. Oulu2026 CEO Piia Rantala-Korhonen advises EcoC candidates of other cities on the application process. Photo: Anne Laurila


Julkaistu: Kirjoittaja: Anne Laurila

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Culture Next, the network of cities that have applied for the European Capital of Culture status, assembled in Oulu recently. International connections are valuable for cultural organizations in Oulu: being the Capital of Culture in 2026 has already opened many doors for Oulu, and those connections are used to build the future of the culture sector after 2026.

The Culture Next network brings together cities applying for European Capital of Culture status and those who have won the title or lost in the competition. About sixty city representatives from twenty countries who applied for Capital of Culture status visited Oulu recently to familiarise themselves with the preparations for the Oulu2026 Capital of Culture year.

The network meeting was supposed to be held in Oulu already in 2020, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the meeting had to be cancelled two days earlier – fortunately, says Stefan Teisanu, coordinator of the Culture Next network.

”The timing for the meeting in Oulu is now perfect: the capital year of Oulu is around the corner, and the plans are concrete and clear. Interest towards the Oulu is clearly higher – for example we have a record number of members attending to our meeting in Oulu. Now is the right time to think about what kind of international cooperation could exist between the participants. There is also enough time to build cooperation before the implementation phase takes place in Oulu. A meeting four years ago in Oulu would have been less fruitful, I don’t think it would have resulted in much concrete cooperation, the application process in Oulu was so incomplete and the plans were open”, Teișanu says.

Two men pose for the camera in front of a wooden wall.

Henri Turunen (right), Executive Producer of Oulu2026 and Ștefan Teișanu, Culture Next network coordinator were happy about the outcome of the Culture Next conference in Oulu. Photo: Monika Männikkö

Romanian Teișanu knows what he is talking about, as he has been the coordinator of the Culture Next network since 2017. Along the way he has seen several cities applying the prestigious title of European Capital of Culture – including his own hometown Cluj-Napoca in 2021 – also without succeed.

”Applying for the Capital of Culture title means a huge amount of work for a several years – all applicant candidates do a lot of preparatory work, which at worst case will go down the drain if the city loses the title. It’s ridiculous – why abandon good plans? There’s nothing preventing them to be done”, Teișanu explains.

”Our city didn’t win the title, but we decided to carry out our plans anyway and the result was successful. That’s where the idea for the Culture Next network came from: we want to inspire and help other losing candidates. We started out as a network of losers, and since then we have included winning cities in the preparation and implementation phase and cities that are in the middle of legacy work”, he continues.

Two women and a man pose for the camera in front of a glass wall

Vineta Pūce, Pia Alatorvinen and Jean-Gabriel Guyant applied together Creative Europe funding for an international residency programme. Photo: Anne Laurila

Culture Next network includes already 35 candidate cities from 19 countries and it continues to expand as more cities apply for the European Capital of Culture title. In Oulu, the network met for the 12th time, and the three-day program included introducing new and existing members of the network, getting to know the Oulu2026 plans, and even therapy sessions between the members.

Struggles that cities are facing with political decision making, money, risk management and legacy work related to capital of culture title seems to be similar among the Culture Next members and relaxed setup for discussions and peer support is for sure needed.

Title opens doors

The Culture Next conference attendees also participated Oulu2026 Academy held at Hotel Lasaretti which offered a possibility to meet local culture actors and discover, what kind of projects they are preparing for the culture capital year. For Pia Alatorvinen, Executive Director of the Oulu Culture Events Association, the matchmaking event offered an opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones.

”We already applied funding from the Creative Europe programme in January with six project partners from five different countries. Our project idea is to create international residency programme that study the delta life with artists, researchers and local communities”, Alatorvinen explains.

In the past, when I've tried to find European festivals to cooperate with, my inquiries were not even answered. When Oulu won the Capital of Culture status, opportunities for internationalisation opened in a completely different way.
Pia Alatorvinen, Executive Director of the Oulu Culture Events Association

In addition to Ghent in Belgium, the project partners include current European Capital of Culture Tartu from Estonia, the losing candidate candidates Valmiera from Latvia and Rouen from France – in other words, the project partners have been found through the Culture Next network. Alatorvinen assures that a similar project could not even have been prepared without Oulu being chosen as the Capital of Culture.

”Of course, the application process for international funding was a lot of work, but now we have partners with whom to build cooperation. In the past, when I’ve tried to find European festivals to cooperate with, my inquiries were not even answered. When Oulu won the Capital of Culture status, opportunities for internationalisation opened in a completely different way. If we don’t get project funding this time, we can think about what other cooperation we can do, and if we need partners for something else, now we have friends to ask for – also after 2026”, Alatorvinen describes.

At the Oulu2026 Academy, Alatorvinen was also able to present the Air Guitar World Championships and lure new countries to join air guitar family, as the Culture Next network includes many countries where air guitar has not been played – yet.

Impressive Oulu

Teișanu has known the Oulu2026 team since the application phase and is happy to see how preparations in Oulu are progressing towards the Capital of Culture year.

”Yesterday we met many local cultural actors at matchmaking event who were enthusiastic about exchanging ideas and planning for cooperation. In addition, the city and the staff of the Cultural Foundation are very committed and work together seamlessly – there is no tension between the staff, which is not self-evident. In fact, we don’t see this type of close collaboration that often. The ecosystem in Oulu seems truly unique and functional, I’m really amazed about it”, Teișanu praises.

You already have a lot of venues ready in place and your city’s future investment plans – wow!
Ștefan Teișanu, coordinator of the Culture Next network

Teișanu also praises the venues and city of Oulu’s future investments in infrastructure.

”You already have a lot of venues ready in place and your city’s future investment plans – wow! I don’t know if this looks as impressive from the local perspective, but from the outside, the situation is good, you have a lot of great facilities to do stuff”, Teișanu assures.

A large group of people discussing in a conference room.

Oulu2026 academy was room full of buzz, when Culture Next members and local culture actors met. Photo: Katri Dahlström

The coordinator of the Culture Next network has extensive experience of the Capitals of Culture and application processes, but there is no ready-made, secret recipe for the implementation of a successful Capital of Culture year. However, there is one area that seems to be particularly difficult for all the winning cities and that requires special attention and therapy discussions within the network.

”I am an informal therapist for many candidates and winning cities, as I am well aware of everyone’s problems. I would say that legacy work is the most difficult area for any city. I do not think that the political decision-makers understand its importance as well as the team working on the cultural programme. Many cities will have a complete drop after the Capital of Culture year, and Oulu should prepare for it already now”, Teișanu ponders.

When it comes to legacy work, Oulu has not been completely idle, as in November Oulu was selected for UNESCO’s Creative Cities network in the field of media art. The global Creative Cities network offers opportunities for international cooperation and opens doors for artists and cultural events in Oulu – just like the title of European Capital of Culture.