Varjo Piknik 8.8. celebrates success of Oulu2026 and Blind Channel

Let’s celebrate together!

On Sunday 8th of August, we will celebrate Oulu winning the title of European Capital of Culture in 2026 and Blind Channel’s success at the Eurovision Song Contest. The event is free and open to everyone. It is organized in collaboration with Varjo Festival.


Schedule for Varjo Piknik in Kuusisaari


11:00 Gates Open⁠

12:00 ⁠Julius Rantala

12:30 Liikkuva Laulureppu

13:15 Soiva Siili

14:00 Pentti Punkin Syntymäpäivät

14:30 Panel Discussion⁠ by Kaleva (in Finnish)

15:30 Speech: Päivi Laajala⁠

15:35 Mustana⁠

16:30 Lanai Music

17:30 Jokrates

18:30 Blind Channel

Oulu2026 Cultural personality: Marta and Kim


Our cultural personalities of the week are Marta Alstadsæte from Norway and Kim-Jomi Fischer from Netherlands, artist duo known as Marta and Kim. Their main focus is creating and performing with circus and dance, and in Oulu2026 they will be doing it in collaboration with Pirjo Yli-Maunula from Flow productions. Marta and Kim thinks that Pirjo has a talent for bringing people together in Oulu and they are very excited to take part in that. Marta and Kim are already collaborating on an immersive performance in 2022, so keep an eye open on flowprod.fi if you are interested to meet them!


Oulu, together with 32 Northern Finnish municipalities, is the year 2026 European Capital of Culture! How do you feel about partnering with Oulu2026, Marta and Kim? 
It is of course a very good incentive for collaboration within Finland as well as internationally.
On a personal note, we are very happy to know already that we will come to Oulu in 2026 -it makes it easy to put efforts into our collaborations in Oulu when you know that it is a “long-term relationship”.

Marta: Also, growing up in the north of Norway, I know how important it is to facilitate international cultural exchange in the north. The reality of time and connection is just very special up there, where communities are small and we stay close to nature, and there is a lot of creative energy. But in my experience art and artistic processes grow through sharing, and you need different influences for it to really unfold.


What does our leading theme, Cultural Climate Change, mean to you? 
There is this saying “you have to change to stay the same”. And by that we are not thinking in terms of improvement or innovation, but simply of being alive and moving. So to us it means that we should not get ourselves stuck in systems and ideas that keep us from participating in life. Of course climate and diversity are important topics of this time. And in the future there might be other urgent topics. But creating an environment where we take care of each other and safely can exchange ideas and thoughts, keeps us from stagnating and getting stuck.


The European Capital of Culture highlights the importance of collaboration between the Oulu2026 region and the rest of Europe. What can we learn from each other? 

We don’t know yet what we will learn, but we are sure the human strength lies in collaboration -that is how we learn. Every experience, whether we like it or not, shapes us. And that’s why it is so important to pop your bubble. Everything you know and understand was new at some point, and the moment you decide to only linger with what you already know you decide to stop living. Experiences that connect us are crucial.


What will Oulu look and feel like in the year 2026? 
Vibrating with life and energy, a bit like now but also a little different.


Send your greetings to Oulu who is now continuing their journey to the European Capital of Culture 2026. 
To the people of Oulu, we are looking forward to meeting you and hopefully to have nice conversations! To the city of Oulu, we are really excited about working on cultural projects at this level of involvement. Big international commitments like this will of course attract a lot of commercial interests, but it is also a great chance to facilitate really interesting and high quality projects, which will keep Oulu breathing and moving long after the events have passed. You will remember quality long after you forgot the price tag, so we hope you will take this opportunity to set up sustainable art projects for the people of Oulu.


Picture: Loes Schakenbos

New 127 Metre Long Mural Combining Northerness and New York Is Created in Raatti


While crossing the Merikoski Bridges, have you noticed some novel patterns and colours have appeared around Raatti? At the beginning of the summer, work began on a mural that is a whopping 127 metres long. Created on the Raatti Stadium wall, the mural has been designed by the New York based artist, Tony Sjöman, who is spending his summer in Oulu to paint the mural.


International Graffiti Artist

Also known as Rubin, Tony Sjöman is a Finnish born, Swedish grown, and USA-living artist. He began painting graffiti as a nine year old in his childhood neighbourhood of Bergsjö in Göteborg. Nowadays, Tony spends about half of his time painting murals and the other half creating paintings in his atelier. Tony has lived and worked in New York for 13 years, and currently lives in Manhattan with his wife Sanna, who is from Oulu, and their five year old son.

This means that Oulu is already a familiar place for Tony. “It is a huge honour to be able to paint the facade of the Raatti Stadium. I like Oulu very much, and the city is my family’s ‘Northern Home’. My brother and sister live in Oulu, and my wife’s parents and brother also live here, so this is our second home and the city that we come to with my wife and son to spend our summer holidays” tells Tony.

During his career, Tony has painted around the world and his artworks have been widely exhibited in different galleries in the United States, Europe and Asia. An especially large amount of his works are in his home city, New York, where his murals embellish restaurants and hotels, as well as high-rise buildings. Sjöman is also the first artist to have designed the face of an American Express credit card (2019).

In Oulu’s Raatti, the mural is the longest one that Tony has ever painted. The project has been planned for a couple of years, and the work on the spot has gone really well. Tony hopes that the Raatti mural will create feelings, cheer up, and stop the people in Oulu. “Nowadays, we are always looking at our phones and to me personally, public art gives us a moment to breathe in the business of the everyday life.” states Sjöman.


Sjöman and his artwork in New York.


The Mural as a Part of Cultural Climate Change in Oulu

As a piece of public art, the mural is according to Tony, a natural part of the Cultural Climate Change in Oulu. Tony was already in Finland when he heard that Oulu had been chosen as the European Capital of Culture for the year 2026. He was incredibly happy and proud of the choice. Tony has already familiarised himself with the Capital of Culture project and thinks that his work fits very well with the themes of the project. “It has Cool Contrasts – my works have always been guided by contrasts as it balances in between the border of Northern nature and peace, as well as a grand world metropolitan. There is also a certain coolness and, if I also mention the Brave Hinterland theme, what would be more brave than a 127 metre long mural?”

Northern roots and culture have been a big inspiration to Tony Sjöman’s artistic expression. In New York, he often hears that the style of his art is Nordic with muted colour palettes, clean lines and minimalism. The shapes in the works, on the other hand, are strongly inspired by Tony’s home city, New York.


Tony Sjöman’s mural in Astoria, New York.

Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Jonna Kalliomäki


Our cultural personality of the week is Jonna Kalliomäki, a 35 year old visual artist (BFA, Visual and Performing Arts) with a masters in Applied Visual Arts and Nature Photography, from Kuusamo. In addition to art, photography, various types of content creation, and creative projects, Jonna acts as the Photo Competition Chairman of Kuusamo Nature Photo Festival, and as the Project Coordinator for Kuusamo in the international innovation network of artist residencies project. The project is currently piloting the Kuusamo Arctic Residence Center ARK. The residency programme in Kuusamo will collaborate with the area’s travel and nature services, as well as Northern universities, with who new operating models and ways of collaboration will be developed between art, science, nature and travel. “It feels great to offer artists and researchers around the world the opportunity to be inspired and work in this scenery. I believe that new cultural projects will make our lives even richer.” says Jonna about the residency project.

Jonna’s seaside hometown of Kristiinankaupunki was left behind long ago, and now she has been surrounded by the rugged forests and fells of Koillismaa. This new, Northern living area has captivated Jonna, and the local culture and nature have had a big role in it. Jonna’s work and spare time activities have always revolved around creative industries and she feels a extremely grateful that she gets to do work in an area she is passionate about.


Oulu, together with 32 Northern Finnish municipalities, is the year 2026 European Capital of Culture! Jonna, how do you feel about that? 

On our level, this is probably one of those moments when you will be asked if you remember where you were when Finland won gold in IIHF World Championships, or what were you doing when Oulu won the title of Capital of Culture. I remember both moments. For the latter, I was in Kuusamo. I thought that finally something that has been worked hard for, yields a well deserved outcome. That joy was easy to identify with. It also felt in the first place like a common achievement, and I believe that this will unite us all even more.


What does our leading theme, Cultural Climate Change, mean to you? 

When I heard what the theme was, I considered it from the perspective of art, and where culture is en route to from that perspective. Back in the year 2006, I remember being excited on my coffee break in my summer job, because I had been accepted to study visual arts. That was a breathless moment that has been drawn into my mind. However, I do notice that arts’ meaning in wellbeing, the economy, and regional development have been highlighted. I hope the same happens for all culture, so that an open-minded atmosphere would be the air we breathe and from which we absorb positive influences to ourselves. I want to believe that in the future, art and different forms of culture are part of our everyday life, so that it shows and is heard everywhere, and creativity is seen as an opportunity which will open new doors. By changing, things stays interesting.


How do you think the Capital of Culture title will impact Northern Finland? 

There is something unique and exotic about the North. The Capital of Culture title will bring just the right amount of contrast to strengthen the region’s unique atmosphere. By means of art and culture, places become meaningful and collaboration between different fields will increase. I predict that creative industries will grow, and their meaning will be highlighted in the society.


The European Capital of Culture highlights the importance of collaboration between the Oulu2026 region and the rest of Europe. What can we learn from each other?

Things are always examined from the perspective of the place we operate in. When creating something new, it is good to pay attention to the local culture and environment and strengthen it, while also respecting that specific area. Art is a great tool to tell about one’s place of residence, traditions, culture, and to disclose things important to us. This creates conversation and information exchange. Interaction is the key to understanding and, if we are open, our spectrum will widen and we might see and experience something novel.


What will Oulu look and feel like in the year 2026? 

I would like to think that during 2026 we will see something that no one has even dared to envision and innovate before. Brave openers, experimental culture, experiences, taking over the city space, communality and participation. More than anything, Oulu2026 is a way of life through which creativity appears as an opportunity to express yourself and create something meaningful, thereby strengthening the bond to one’s own place of residence. Art and culture will be part of the environment, sustainable development, and the cityscape, thus highlighting the unique characteristics of the area. Oulu2026 will create a new zeitgeist. The North in the year 2026 will be something that everyone wants to experience.


Photo: Eeva Mäkinen

Expert Panel report about the selection of European Capital of Culture

The expert panel’s report about the selection of the European Capital of Culture in 2026 in Finland has been published!

Read the full report “Selection of the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) in 2026 in Finland. The Expert Panel’s report. Selection Stage. Virtual Meeting. June 2021.” here.

Photo: Sanna Krook

Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Jimi Heikkinen

Our cultural personality of the week is Finnish Baseball player Jimi Heikkinen, a 39 year old entrepreneur and athlete originally from Vuokatti, who has spent the majority of his career playing on the Sotkamon Jymy team. Lighthearted and open-minded, Jimi has lived in Oulu for two years now and has made himself at home with the help of the city’s rich cultural offering. He is now playing for the Oulun Lippo team, and is calling for cooperation between different cultural operators.


Oulu, together with 32 Northern Finnish municipalities, is the year 2026 European Capital of Culture! How do you feel about that?

As the 2026 European Capital of Culture, Oulu has a wonderful opportunity to show how life here in Northern Finland is, as well as what kind of elements our cultural climate consists of. Authenticity, creativity and originality are my words.


What does our leading theme, Cultural Climate Change, mean to you?

A human is a psychophysical entity. To me, culture means comprehensive wellbeing from both the perspective of psyche, as well as physicality. As an athlete, I see a lot of potential in Cultural Climate Change, for example in young people’s different hobby opportunities and in preventing social exclusion. As an entrepreneur, I believe that Cultural Climate Change will show in the form of new partnerships, work opportunities, and the creation of jobs.


How do you think the Capital of Culture title will impact Northern Finland?

I hope the Capital of Culture title to create liveliness as well as surprising and vibrant combinations between people. The title will certainly refresh the reconstruction field after the silence forced by coronavirus thereby creating communality and participation in Northern Finland. This is something that the rest of Europe could learn from – why not the rest of Europe too.


The European Capital of Culture highlights the importance of collaboration between the Oulu2026 region and the rest of Europe. What can we learn from each other?

Finland is unique in many ways; nature, people, technological knowledge, growth development into new sectors… Reciprocity with the rest of Europe is in my opinion the sharing of versatile and multifaceted know-how, and refining them into one but without flattening the typical characteristics of each country.


What will Oulu look and feel like in the year 2026?

In the year 2026, Oulu will shine as a vital capital of Northern Finland. It has been formed into a community with idea rich networks, and is even more courageous about grabbing different collaboration opportunities. This will certainly be reflected in the cultural wellbeing of the whole city of Oulu.