Oulu has launched a pilot project to build a network for people of different language and cultural backgrounds. “The goal is to create a shared forum to promote equal opportunities”, says Arto Willman, the Head of Immigration Services in the city of Oulu.
The convenors of the network are the city of Oulu’s Multicultural Centre Villa Victor and Oulu Culture Foundation, which is operating the Oulu 2026 project, the European Capital of Culture year 2026.
Anna Litewka-Anttolainen, the Project manager of the Yhdenvertainen Oulu2026 (Equal Oulu2026) project, says that the first meeting was held in October 2023. 30 representatives of different associations and communities participated in the meeting.
Different funding possibilities in Oulu were discussed in the first meeting. The goal of the network is to promote cultural diversity and equality in Oulu and neighboring regions. It is also important to develop the cooperation possibilities between different operators and support the operations of associations and communities as well as organizing shared events.
“Our goal with the network is increasing the visibility of cultural diversity in Oulu’s cultural life and in the Oulu2026 programme. After the pilot period and the project, the activities of the network will continue as a part of Villa Victor’s operations”, Litewka-Anttolainen explains.
“The intention is to strengthen the operations of different operators of diverse language and cultural backgrounds in Oulu. Strong and diverse operations of immigrant associations and communities significantly promotes the civic activities, participation and equal influencing opportunities of immigrants”, she adds.
Building a forum together
Arto Willman serves as the Head of Immigration Services in the city of Oulu.
“The idea to gather the group came up during the Covid pandemic when we needed to inform people about health and safety. The core representatives of these communities were invaluable in passing our messaging on and above all in making the messaging accessible.”
Willman considers that it is worth encouraging different associations of diverse language and cultural backgrounds into the cooperation network.
“The goal is to create a shared forum to promote equal opportunities. The Oulu Culture Foundation preparing for the European Capital of Culture year 2026 is a partner with aligned themes and content. A shared discussion began that led to the creation of the network.”
Northern Ostrobothnia’s Coordinator Henrik Skarevik from the Yhdenvertainen Oulu2026 project ponders the importance of promoting equality.
“The goal is mainstreaming cultural diversity and the operations of communities of different language and cultural backgrounds as a part of local cultural life. We are creating a network together with different communities and parties that reinforce the individual and shared activities of different operators.”
Willman hopes that the project will bring in Romani and Sami cultural communities as well.
“In the meetings we discuss how we can aid and support the activities of different groups. The use of spaces is one example. The city offers many spaces but using them is not very simple. Questions and needs may arise”, he says.
“The associations may learn from each other how activities have been realized and what modes of operation have been established. We also offer information, what is still needed and what has been achieved. We also consider how we can create an image of a diverse and international Oulu from the city’s perspective.”
“Through these associations we can reach people we would not otherwise reach. It is important to communicate to others to join us”, Willman sums up.
Luz Peltoniemi, native to Peru, has noticed events organized by Spanish-speakers in Helsinki and has wondered if such events could be brought to Oulu.
“There is a lot going on in Oulu, but for some reason the information does not reach everyone. It would be good to offer information to Finnish language students, it would be a part of integration. It is also important that communication is as accessible as possible for people of different language and cultural backgrounds. Everyone should be able to find information using the city’s event calendar for example. We have also considered that it would be important to organize cultural events.”
Peltoniemi explains that she saw how multiple operators at the Kolibri Festival cooperated as a network to realize an event for the Machu Picchu band in Helsinki. Another excellent example is the multi-country organized Latin Folk Night dance event in Helsinki; thirteen South American countries organized the event in November.
“It was awesome. There were Finnish dancers participating as well. And there were many Finnish, Russian and Swedish people in the audience. The event was very interesting. I think that working together is great, we can get together and create a shared network of language and culture.”
“So, would it be possible to bring in some special skills from every association? The foundation could be a music event or some other cultural activity. Groups and associations could present their cultural activities at Oulu Days, for example”, Peltoniemi suggests.
Operators as organizers
Willman brings up a broader perspective.
“Culture should be the city’s showcase. It is preferable that the associations actively pursue, ideate and shape its content and message. The operators themselves should shape the activities of the network in the future.”
Do you represent a language and culture background and want to join the network’s activities? The network meets for the next time on February 15, 2024. Further information about the network and the meeting from Anna Litewka-Anttolainen: email@example.com.