Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Henna Ryynänen

Our cultural personality of the week is Henna Ryynänen, an illustrator, a children’s author and a visual artist, who is currently working on the third book, to be released in the summer, in her children’s book series that follows a dog called Myry. Despite the pandemic, Ryynänen is enjoying a surprisingly social life at the moment as a part of the artist community of Pikisaari. As a counterweight to making books Ryynänen, who describes herself as a “wool sock footed Ouluian”, makes illustrations for companies and associations, paints and felts.

Henna, how does your life look like and feel now during these exceptional times?
“Right before the start of the pandemic I rented an office in Pikisaari from kulttuurikiihdyttämö TILA together with four other artists. There is a lot of bustle in the Telegram group of the tenants of the building as people are sharing their thoughts about future events, workshops and cultural activity. Once the restrictions are removed there will be a lot of open doors events and opportunities to familiarize with the work of the artists.

It’s nice to be a part of a congenial and enthusiastic art community. I have now been a solo entrepreneur for eight years and due to the working space in Pikisaari the year has brought a change to a more social direction, as funny as that may sound under the current circumstances.”

How does Oulu look like through your eyes right now?
“I just went for a walk and the wintery Oulu is at its best right now. When you look at the sun dancing in the crowns of the pines and hear the birds singing, you can not feel anything other than joy and peace”

Oulu, together with 32 other municipalities, is bidding for the title of European Capital of Culture (ECoC). Why would northern Finland be suitable to win the race?
“The potential of the north is diverse. The closeness to nature combined with a positive cultural bubbling brings an interesting dimension. When basic things are done well there is room left for creativity. The most important strength comes from the people who live here.”

What does our leading theme, Cultural Climate Change, mean to you?
“For me Cultural Climate Change means taking into consideration the small everyday things. There is a lot of hidden potential here that just needs to be realized. An example of this are the city’s dozens of high-quality playgrounds, which are located next to good bicycle lanes. I haven’t seen anything like this anywhere else. A rental place for box bikes could be set up somewhere, and it would be great if you could also get a map to the different playgrounds and to other fun sights. The city center and its surrounding areas are full of interesting statues, beaches, park forests and ice cream kiosks. Art could be combined with this route idea. And of course winter cycling as well, which is certainly an experience for many, although for oneself it might just feel like a sweaty everyday activity.”

Send your regards to the Oulu of 2026, when we are the European Capital of Culture
“This is a great achievement, but this is only the beginning!”






Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Olli Joki

Our Cultural Personality for this week is Olli Joki, the chairman of the student association’s board of the University of Oulu.

Joki is a 23-year-old barefoot Ouluian who studies international business management at the School of Economics at the University of Oulu. Although the longing back to normal circumstances and to student culture is strong, Joki takes pleasure from the increasing amount of sunlight and the beautiful, sunny winter days.

Olli, how does your life look like and feel now during these exceptional times?

During the year I have somehow been able to adapt and get used to the current situation, and although in its entirety the longing back to normal is great, one can find plenty of positive things in everyday life that help manage in these circumstances.

How does Oulu look like through your eyes right now?

It’s great that the people of Oulu have acted responsibly during these times, and the number of cases and spreading of the disease have remained under control. Working alone as a student is wearing, and it would be nice to have more communality and interaction with other students. I am happy that our student associations have come up with good ways to organize different remote events and to create communality during these difficult times. There is an increasing demand for these.

Oulu, together with 32 other municipalities, is bidding for the title of European Capital of Culture (ECoC). Why would northern Finland be suitable to win the race, and what does our leading theme, Cultural Climate Change, mean to you?

In northern Finland one can find creativity, diversity and perseverance, for example in our active student culture. The Cultural Climate Change theme means to me above all experiencing communality and social cohesion through culture.

Send your regards to the Oulu of 2026, when we are the European Capital of Culture

Let’s show together to the whole Europe the know-how and creativity of northern Finland!


Image: Jesse Ronkainen 







Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Milla Korja

Our Cultural Personality for this week is Milla Korja, a dancer from Oulu and a dance teacher at the Oulu University of Applied Sciences. In addition to her main job she works as a freelancer in the dancing field and consumes a lot of culture also in her freetime.

Originally from Hollola, Korja moved to Oulu in the 1990s and immediately became infatuated with the city, although the move initially felt like a “huge personal cultural climate change”. Korja graduated with a master’s degree in dancing in California in 2003, and although she spent years abroad as well, she has lived in Oulu already for 25 years.


How does your life look like and feel now during this exceptional time?

“Just one week ago I noticed being delighted as I realized how lucky I am to still be able to work several hours per week with extremely motivated dance teacher students. Dance is one of the special fields at the university of applied sciences that is based on craft, so we have been allowed to work in small groups during the second covid wave. Working in contact teaching at the dancehall gives you a lot of power. At the same time, I’m sad for many friends and colleagues because some of them have lost almost all of their income due to the plight of the cultural sector. I really hope that soon we get to enjoy live culture again. In recent times I have really enjoyed long walks in the beautiful delta sceneries of Oulu. Great illuminated bridges, dams, the theater and other buildings bring happiness and beauty to people during the winter time, not to mention the richness of the summer scenery.”


How does Oulu look like through your eyes right now?

“At the moment we live in a strong state of fermentation with an unpredictable epidemic. However, I believe that operators in the cultural sector are working towards a future that will be stronger than ever before. This exceptional situation has been utilized to take a break, to ponder working methods, to come up with new ideas and to develop new ways to experience culture. Oulu has many diverse operators in the cultural field who have plenty of ideas and who strongly defend the diversity of culture.”


Oulu, in collaboration with 32 other municipalities, in bidding for the title of European Capital of Culture (ECoC). Why would northern Finland be a suitable ECoC?

“From a Finnish perspective, Oulu is the best and the right candidate for the Capital of Culture. We are a northern option, crazy in a good way, and an original and innovative city. Together with the other municipalities we can provide both locals and tourists with original and brave cultural experiences. Especially now during this exceptional time the importance of culture and mental well-being are emphasized. People need and yearn for the mental resource that culture provides them; it’s a basic necessity, like butter on bread.”


What does cultural climate change mean to you?

“For a long time, Oulu has been profiled mainly as a technology city. It’s great to see that culture, and the mental well-being that comes with it, are seen as equally important resources for humans. This is long-term sustainable thinking that will bear fruit over generations. The cultural field develops communality, which is one of the most important uniting aspects for an individual. For this reason, I hope that cultural climate change offers empowering experiences for all locals as well as for visiting tourists.

Oulu is known for its diverse and abundant dance know-how. I hope that cultural climate change can utilize this specialty and the possibilities of dance as a borderless form of expression through physicalness, encounters, touching and cultural tolerance.”


Send your regards to the Oulu of 2026, when we are the European Capital of Culture

“Let’s be a brave, vigorous, innovative and genuinely original cultural capital 2026. Let’s create a diverse cultural environment together, one that we can be proud of.

When we enjoy ourselves in the future Oulu, our visitors will enjoy themselves as well!”


Photo: Milla Korja







Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Eeva Maria al-Khazaali

Eeva_Maria puolikuva


Eeva Maria al-Khazaali is a poet and a screenwriter for indie movies and she is currently writing a feminist autofiction. She has studied arts in Great Britain and creative writing in Finland.

How does your life feel now during these exceptional times?
I started my current full-time job in the organization field right at the beginning of the pandemic. I  have done most of the work that is normally done at the office from home now, according to the recommendations for long-distance working, just like I do my own artistic work in any case. The work has been rewarding. Despite that, life feels a bit halted because social contacts have been restricted a lot and it has not been possible to organize events. Caution is related to everything. This time will be remembered in history as exceptional.

How does Oulu look like through your eyes?
Oulu looks like a city that has a lot of potential. Although the education for the field of arts here offers only very limited options, there are plenty of artists and experts in the field of arts. This brings light even to the dark times. Unions, organizations and societies are doing their best and the transition from local live events to national or even global events has partially been successful with know-how from Oulu.

Oulu is bidding for the title of European Capital of Culture (ECoC). What makes our region the best candidate for the title?
Oulu has a lot of know-how and a good spirit. Oulu has exceptional know-how in the fields of arts and culture. We have a great Oulu’s House of Literature, the events organized by it, the Botnia-prize and many other organizations or operators who produce events. In addition, there are many young, rising voices in the region, such as Loska-zine. For a person who has come to Oulu from elsewhere, the photography and movie and video production have proven to be top quality.

What does cultural climate change mean to you?
To be fair, I searched for the definition of the concept for a while. Sometimes it feels that realizing these kinds of things is difficult precisely because of the conceptualization. The concept of cultural climate could be unwrapped from several viewpoints: the position of minorities and their possibilities to create culture could be considered. The diversity of culture and noticing this diversity, equal opportunities to create art and culture, make it visible and to express oneself are important things. Referring to the previous, I wish everyone had the same opportunities to display their culture. My other point of view is thankful: the possibilities of rural areas to consume culture are increasing thanks to increasing digitalization. There is a lot of work to be done.

Send your regards to the Oulu of 2026, when we are the European Capital of Culture
More, bigger, more and do it bravely!

Photo: Isabel Andersson