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Cultural Personality of the week: Anna-Mari Nousiainen

Photo of artists Anna-Mari Nousiainen

Our Cultural Personality of the week is Anna-Mari or Ansku Nousiainen, who describes herself in her Instagram bio as: “Failed film-maker, mediocre artist and soon-to-become bad tattoo artist.” Ansku confirms she is all that but also a lot more. At least, a loyal hype girl, pathetic softie, a bit tough, but deep down a really sensitive soul.

Ansku dreamt of becoming an artist since primary school, but her career in film happened accidentally. After finishing upper secondary school, the doors to the art schools did not open and, in panic, Ansku applied to any further education programme that mentioned the word culture or media. Sitting at the entrance interview for Salpaus Further Education, Ansku was wondering why on earth they were asking strange questions about XLR cables and connections and tried to steer the interview towards comics. Eventually the interviewers asked, “You do know this is an audio-visual media programme?”.

Ansku had thought she had applied to the graphic design programme, so thinking on her feet, quickly replied, “Yes, I LOVE cinema!”

Miraculously, Ansku was accepted and was later able to study film and work in the industry. Throughout her studies, however, Ansku also studied and worked with art and insisted on calling herself an artist.

Today, Ansku makes art across disciplines and her career is currently in transition. Ansku has moved from film more towards festival work, and in her artistic work she has expanded into photography, video and installations as well as 3D and audio works. Stories, not just showing them but also telling them, are at the core of Ansku’s work.

This spring, Ansku is mostly focusing on her role as the artistic director of the Oulu Music Video Festival, which brings all her professional interests together. Ansku has always loved music videos and is a complete “music video freak”. When she realised she, too, could be making music videos, there was no turning back. Ansku started attending the Oulu Music Video Festival (OMVF) first as a video maker and, inspired by the event, she launched a small Musavideorama music video event in Tampere together with Anna Alkiomaa. Recently, OMVF was looking for a new artistic director, Jaakko Mattila, who was leaving the role, suggested to Ansku that she should apply. Ansku has been working as the artistic director of OMVF since 2019.

You have just moved to Oulu from Helsinki. Tell us more! How did you come to that decision? How does it feel now, to live in Oulu?

Many people have asked me “Why would anyone move from Helsinki to Oulu?”. I could write an essay or a short story about it, but I think I’ll just settle for a short “Why not?”. Helsinki was cold and I was longing for something else. I have managed to travel to Oulu once a month for an entire autumn and winter, for one week at a time, so I thought Oulu could could just as well be my home and I could travel from here. I was nervous about the move mainly because my friends mostly live in the south, but people did support my decision! I have always travelled a lot all over Finland, so this was not as radical a choice as it may sound. My mum agreed with my decision and said “It’s great that things are happening elsewhere as well, not just in Helsinki!” My home has always been critical of Helsinki-centredness and I guess that has rubbed off on me.

My relationship with Oulu was purely the result of the music video festival – first as a visitor, then getting more involved with the event and now finally as the artistic director. I have no family here, and before the festival, I didn’t know anyone in Oulu. Through the festival, I had quickly built a very close circle of people and relationships that are important to me. I called it my music video family, and I started spending more and more time here outside my work as well. Summer 2021 was probably the turning point when my thoughts came together. Elektorni, festivals and events, perfect rollerblading routes and bright summer nights completely charmed me. Oulu was flirting with me like nobody or no other place has ever done before!

I must say that the campaign to get me to Oulu was persistent but subtle (these people are professionals after all!) and eventually very successful. So here I am! As my friend Vilma said: “There must be something very special about Oulu for you of all people to move here!”

What are you up to these days? How do you spend your spare time?

I’m great! I moved here about a month ago, so I’ve mainly been tidying up my place, nest building (and building my doll’s house) and hanging around vintage markets (Oulu has the best vintage markets, I have found the best pyjamas, mesh tops, china and homeware here). The first two weeks I spent just unpacking and decorating my place, and the pastel colour scheme is almost ready. It’s time to move my focus to day-to-day life, and at this time of the year this includes writing grant applications.

I was hoping that after unpacking all my stuff I would be just organising my china, lying in bed and drinking endless cups of coffee in the morning. And that’s precisely what I’ve done all February! I’ve found it difficult to read for the past couple of years, but since I moved, I’ve found myself with a book in my hand every day!

This month’s book and other spring-time tips:

Syyskirja by Johanna Venho

Travelling Light by Tove Jansson

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

 

And so as not to sound more intellectual than I am, I have also been obsessing about the reality TV show Too Hot To Handle. To the point that I’ve found out which of the couples are still together… I never used to watch reality TV but then I came across Fboy Island on HBO and I was hooked!

I am also trying to rest more this spring, before the summer’s hectic festival season begins.

 

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

Climate change as a term is quite dramatic and of course we associate it with the state of our environment and it makes us worry about the future. I have long been a huge fan of domestic travel and I think that surprisingly few people in Finland have travelled widely in their own country. I really want to encourage everyone to embrace the idea of cultural climate change, and if there was anything positive about the coronavirus pandemic, I would hope it is people discovering domestic travel. For example, the Bättre Folk festival draws wide audiences from outside Oulu, which only goes to show that distance is not an issue. After all, people travel abroad to go to festivals.

As a term alone, climate change is shocking in a negative sense while cultural climate change to me means openness, kindness, collaboration and lack of prejudice.

What is it like to work in Northern Finland? How do you find Oulu at this present time?

I think Oulu is a perfect size to work (and to live!). You can make things happen and people seem very open to cooperation and new experiences.

I am constantly positively surprised how I don’t have to spend all day commuting and dealing with some complicated issue, as was the case in Helsinki. I love it that getting about without a car is so easy and quick. The city centre is very compact and I absolutely love that about Oulu! As a festival organiser (and visitor!) this is a real positive – people can easily attend several events in one day and with effective marketing, the pre and post-festival parties can also be squeezed in the same night!

Oulu is like a big park, in a good way. The woods and water are never far away. I am impressed by how many accessible, non-commercial spaces there are in the city centre where people can meet up and spend time.

For most of my career I have worked in Northern Finland during the pandemic, which of course has had an effect on what working in the cultural and festival sector has been like for me. I would like to see more cooperation between event organisers in events marketing (we should have our own Oulu Hypend!). I think there are a lot more young party- and festival-goers that we are not yet reaching. It is also interesting how easy it is to travel from here to Sweden and Norway overland! It will be exciting to see how the connections between the neighbouring countries are utilised in the Capital of Culture project.

What will Oulu look and feel like in 2026? How do you think the Capital of Culture title will impact Northern Finland?

It feels a bit wild to think that far ahead at the moment! I hope that Oulu presents itself as the lovely green city that it is, where the sun is shining and people are busy going to events. I hope to see an even livelier and more accessible, diverse and open-minded urban culture.

I would like to be shocked about how many of my friends have never been to Oulu, but then again, before the music video festival, neither had I. But that shows we should never underestimate the power of culture! I believe that the Capital of Culture title will encourage us to build new networks, venture into unknown territories and organise even more and more diverse events.

I also think that the impact will be seen in Oulu residents learning to appreciate their city and the region more, and in that the appeal of Oulu will be noticed further afield that in Northern Finland alone.

 

Oulu2026 Cultural Personality:Havina

 

kuvassa Havina -yhtye

The Cultural Personality of the Week is the indie band Havina. Hailing from Oulu, the band makes highly evocative music in Finnish. Havina is made up of musicians Juha Kuusela and Sini Sax.

How are you these days? And how to you spend your spare time?
Havina: Havina is eagerly looking forward to the new year. Our new EP was released on 6 January. Celebrating the release, we will be working with the full line-up of Havina and the rehearsals are well underway. We’re rehearsing songs, writing new ones, and hope to play Havina’s music in all its glory in front of a live audience soon.
Sini: For me, the boundary between spare time and work is blurred. Music used to take up my spare time, and now I’ve moved on to a phase in life where music is no longer a hobby. I was only recently accepted to the artist training programme in Rytmi Institute, starting in January. This means I want to spend even more time playing and writing music. Apart from that, I sit on the board of PAVA (The Association of Audio-visual Professionals in Northern Finland), do macramé and sometimes make digital art, read, do all kinds of exercise, and go to gigs and events whenever they can be organised.
Juha: I’m doing fine as well. I play in bands and do various other things related to music, I cycle, and I play video games.

Oulu, together with 32 municipalities in Northern Finland, is the European Capital of Culture in 2026! How do you feel about that?
Sini: Great! The title has such positive associations, I’m so proud to be from Oulu right now. It’s also nice to see how that recognition will be translated into practice and real action. This takes us in a direction we’ve been hoping for. When I first heard that Oulu was competing for the title, I was a little sceptical about how seriously the city was taking it. In the end, I was positively surprised! Oulu took a giant leap in promoting culture. So, a big thank you for your commitment and the achievements so far!
Juha: It’s perhaps a little early to say. Let’s see what this means in practice.

What does our leading theme, Cultural Climate Change, mean to you?
Juha: Unfortunately I’m not that familiar with the actual content of the theme, but I certainly like the sound of it.
Sini: There will be more room for culture in all sectors of society and, in addition, actors in the cultural field will be actively offered more opportunities to practice their art. New initiatives are encouraged and the established offerings will receive practical support. The value of culture is acknowledged as something meaningful to us all, something that adds value and wellbeing in our lives. Cooperation between different practitioners will become possible.

How do you find Oulu at this present time?
Sini:Oulu is stunningly beautiful on a cold winter’s day. And any time of the year really. It’s a nice size, a village where it’s always a bit too windy and smelly. And yet it’s my home. I’ve tried living elsewhere in Finland but I’ve always returned.
Juha:Oulu is pretty when fresh, clean snow has just fallen.

What will Oulu look and feel like in 2026? How do you think the Capital of Culture title will impact Northern Finland?
Sini: There will be more opportunities for live gigs and their organisers are supported. The region already has a certain reputation and appeal as a city of film, comics and adverts, and the gaming industry also has a clear presence. The region boasts a high concentration of audio-visual talent. It’s quite possible to make a decent living here in the field of culture. Oulu is known for unique events such as the Air Guitar World Championships, Bättre Folk, and Polar Bear Pitching, as well as for smaller and less eccentric festivals which are nonetheless organised with great panache and vision. I also think that more recently, the sea and the rivers and the lakes, and phenomena like the polar night, our flat landscape and sauna culture have also been utilised better. The best thing is that culture will be seen and heard even after 2026, there is already a plan in place for that.
Juha: I think it would be an excellent idea to have plenty of cultural events in the city throughout the year – to state the obvious!

Photo: Petteri Stavén

Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Sanna Korpi

kuvassa laulaja Sanna KorpiThe Cultural Personality of the Week is Sanna Korpi, who originally hails from Oulainen. Sanna Korpi completed her vocal teacher training at the Oulu University of Applied Sciences in spring 2020 under the tuition of Soile Isokoski. The same spring, she also earned a master’s degree in music education and qualified as a primary school teacher. Sanna Korpi started her career as a soprano in the Youth Choir of Oulainen in 2008. She is currently studying towards a master’s degree is classical singing at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre in Tallinn. Korpi has been involved in various choir, opera and music productions particularly in Northern Ostrobothnia. She sang the role of Prince Leo in Jaakko Kuusisto’s opera the Princess and Wild Swans in Oulu in 2017 and in the same year the role of Miss Iida as well as ensemble parts in Jukka Linkola’s opera Abraham’s Banquet (Liminka 2017 & Helsinki 2018). Since 2018, Sanna has appeared in the leading role in the multi-artistic dance work Rauha. Sanna participated in the 2021 Timo Mustakallio Singing Competition in Savonlinna and will next participate in the forthcoming Lappeenranta Singing Competition.

Oulu, together with 32 municipalities in Northern Finland, is the European Capital of Culture in 2026! How do you feel about that?
That’s absolutely amazing! I hope that it gives us musicians and artists plenty of opportunities to practice our profession in a new way and to show our skills and talent to the local audiences. Once I return to Finland from Estonia, I would love to be part of promoting the cultural life of Oulu and Oulu Region.

How are you these days? How do you spend your spare time?
I’m feeling great at the moment. I had the chance to relax and see my family and friends over Christmas in and around Oulu. My plan for the spring term is to study hard and finish my studies at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. I also hope that the pandemic is soon well and truly over and that cultural life can be in full swing again.

In my spare time, I enjoy knitting and sewing, doing exercise and being active outdoors. Lately, I’ve been enjoying Nordic walking and indoor cycling in particular, and I would love to go hiking a bit more in the future. When I’m in Tallinn, I go to see opera and ballet. This spring I would also like to visit cultural events again in Finland.

What does our leading theme, Cultural Climate Change, mean to you?
The purpose of art is to arouse feelings and show different aspects of phenomena. As a theme, the Cultural Climate Change lends itself to observing life and humanity from a variety of perspectives. Art inspired by this theme has the potential of closing the gap between the people and nature. Perhaps it could remind people of our basic values in life and give us a much needed break from the hectic pace of life and consumerism.

How do you find Oulu at this present time?
Because of the lockdown and all that it entailed, it’s still difficult to say how I see Oulu as a cultural city at the moment, but the Capital of Culture 2026 title is definitely a crucial injection of life for Oulu and the nearby region. The Oulu region continues to produce a huge amount of artistic talent that deserves the opportunity to shine and claim its space in people’s awareness.

What will Oulu look and feel like in 2026?How do you think the Capital of Culture title will impact Northern Finland?
I believe that the title will support the future cultural offering in Northern Finland in general. It would be great to see and hear all kinds of talent across the cultural spectrum.

Photo: Arttu Haimi

Oulu2026 Cultural Personality:Tessa Astre

kuvassa Tessa Astreen omakuva Ränni-galleriassa

The Cultural Personality of the Week is Tessa Astre, a multidisciplinary artist and art teacher. Tessa teaches comics and animation at the Liminka School of Arts and also serves as a planner and group leader in the Theatre Programme of the same school.
Tessa Astre has served for two years as a member of the board for Oulu Artists Association and for six years as the vice-chair and member of the board for Oulu Comics Association. She is a founder of the Performanssilupi club, has performed as her burlesque alter ego Regiina Dieder, particularly at Oulu Pride Vaimola events, and promoted the Open Stage clubs in her hometown Liminka.

In 2021, two comic books edited by Tessa in cooperation with students were published: one based on Juha Hurme’s play and the other in cooperation with comic artists from the Komi Republic. Together with Aapo Kukko and Niko-Petteri Niva, Tessa has also co-authored the graphic novel “Huojuva Torni”, which is set in Oulu . Last summer, she created installations in two spaces: a room for the Ars Kärsämäki summer exhibition and the August exhibition of the RÄNNI gallery.
Tessa operates within and across several artistic disciplines and cultural genres. “Artistically I’m most interested in combining performance art, drawing and narratives. To me, the different media are tools that I use whichever way the purpose and content of the work demands. In social and political terms, I’m interested in the accessibility and inclusivity of culture and art. Collaboration between different media is an asset,” says Tessa.

Oulu, together with 32 municipalities in Northern Finland, is the European Capital of Culture in 2026! How do you feel about that?
I feel so lucky to be a cultural creator in Oulu right now! I believe that being in the international limelight creates job opportunities for artists and improves the accessibility of the arts. Art education could be made available to all age groups through various projects to enrich our day-to-day lives. Cultural discourse on the interface of science and art will be made visible and collectively accessible. The significance and meaning of art and cultural practitioners should continue to be acknowledged and taken into account in planning after the Capital of Culture year ends. In Liminka, the impact of art and culture is increasingly understood, and the Capital of Culture title serves as confirmation that we’ve chosen the right path!

What does our leading theme, Cultural Climate Change, mean to you?
My personal identity is deeply rooted in Northern Finland and this influences my artistic work. Nuan 65 was a life-changing project for me: it meant a recognition of the uniqueness of Northern practitionership and finding my own circles in different media here. The Cultural Climate Change forces you to think what the optimum climate on these latitudes is. What type of climate can the existing infrastructure and system offer creators and audiences? What can we do?
The climate belongs to all of us, regardless of the system, which means that we also share the responsibility for it. The authorities must take responsibility for the actions that harm the climate while making it feasible for everyone to protect the climate.

How do you find Oulu at this present time?
Oulu is a beautiful city full of secret places and imaginative routes. For some reason, the local authorities seem hell-bent on doing away with grassroots activists and old buildings. I hope that the Capital of Culture title encourages decision-makers and gatekeepers to see the seemingly unprofitable underground scene and the multiple layers of history and culture as an opportunity rather than a threat.

How do you spend your spare time?
I watch films with my kids and talk to my chickens, tend to my garden, and write stories.
When possible, I go to gigs, especially in Rauhala, Tuba, and Voimala. Tarkkis 14 is a treasure trove and there are several places just outside Oulu where you can get rescue food. You can always meet nice people at Tukikohta and the Northern Ostrobothnia Museum in Ainola park is an excellent place to visit. In the summer, the best part of Oulu is the waterfront, and the parks with their plant life and graffiti walls are a must in all seasons. The Escurial Zoo and Flower Park in Liminka is a unique destination. Rantakylä is the best place for swimming. We have the whole world in miniature here, in and around Oulu. I’ve no reason to leave!

What will Oulu look and feel like in 2026? How do you think the Capital of Culture title will impact Northern Finland?
In 2026, the Liminka School of Art will start offering basic and intermediate Open University courses in theatre and comic art. The capacity of the school has expanded and it will be offering tuition round the year. The resources of private operators in other municipalities have also been increased to an all-time high and long-term employment for professional art and culture practitioners is guaranteed. Every public and private project will allocate a fixed percentage to art acquisitions, and the commissions of art for public spaces are lot more imaginative than mere lifelike statues. Performance art will have established venues with sufficient funding and grassroots actors are automatically involved in cultural projects. Art and creators are an integral part of Oulu’s diverse urban image.

Photo: Tessa Astre

Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Iina Palokangas

Kuvassa muusikko Iina Palokangas kitaran kanssa keltaisen seinän edessäThe Cultural Personality of Week is Iina Palokangas, a singer-songwriter, music teacher, and cultural producer from Oulu. Singer-songwriter music has been close to Iina’s heart through her own music but also through the Taustatarinaklubi (‘Backstory Club’), a series of singer-songwriter events she organises. Iina returned to Oulu almost six years ago after studying music in Helsinki. “Originally, I came back because I was accepted for the music education programme at the university, but I have since found several more reasons to stay,” says Iina.

Oulu, together with 32 municipalities in Northern Finland, is the European Capital of Culture in 2026! How do you feel about that?
Oulu has always delivered high-quality culture and cultural education. The Capital of Culture title is a welcome recognition of that.

What does our leading theme, Cultural Climate Change, mean to you?
It means the acknowledgement of the power of the community. I hope that the Capital of Culture year will build new bridges between artists, organisers, audiences, and communities.

How do you find Oulu at this present time?
Oulu is all about peace and authenticity – the best possible environment for creative work. To me personally, to be physically slightly remote from the heavy-weight cultural scene means more time and space to create. However, this also means that in order to create collegial communities for musicians, we have to make a conscious and consistent effort to facilitate them. I hope that the Cultural Climate Change will help artists find each other.

How do you spend your spare time?
In the last few years, I’ve been focusing on my first album. During the pandemic in particular, I have found myself starved of all things cultural. At the moment I’m particularly interested in theatre and visual arts and the dialogue between these art forms and my music.

What will Oulu look and feel like in 2026?How do you think the Capital of Culture title will impact Northern Finland?
I hope that Oulu looks like, feels like – and is – a culture capital of equality, diversity, and inclusivity.
I’m really excited to see how the year is championed by the schools of the region. I believe that the year will also form a foundation for future Northern Finnish cultural practitioners to celebrate their identity and use their talent and opportunities to build careers in Northern Finland.

Photo: Moona Mikkola

Oulu2026 Cultural Personality:Kristian Heberg

Kuvassa kuoronjohtaja Kristian Heberg mustassa puvussa

Our Cultural Personality of the Week is Kristian Heberg, a 33-year-old professional choir director from Oulu. Heberg conducts the Cassiopeia choir, Oulu Chamber Choir, and Oulun Laulu. In addition, he works as a freelance pianist and teacher across Finland. Kristian is also the artistic director of the Vaasa Choir Festival and is actively involved in several choral associations including Sulasol, the Finnish Mixed Choir Association, the Finnish Male Choir Association, and the Finnish Choral Conductors’ Association as a board and committee member.
In the exceptional conditions of the past two years, he has also specialised in online training and music instruction as well as the tools and programmes suitable for remote music and choir instruction. Kristian has studied the field widely and is currently a student of music education at the University of Oulu where he has also served as an untenured teacher.

Oulu, together with 32 Northern Finnish municipalities, is the 2026 European Capital of Culture!How do you feel about that?
Great! I’m really looking forward to everything that this title will bring. I don’t look at the opportunity only from the audience’s perspective but also from that of music hobbyists and what this means for the resources available to them, and of course what this means for professional artists. All levels of activity and all sectors of art will probably benefit considerably from the Capital of Culture year.

What does our leading theme, Cultural Climate Change, mean to you?
Since we’re living in these exceptional times, it naturally means raising the status of culture across the board but it also signals new ways of working. Many cultural operators are able to make their meagre resources go a long way but even these are usually really hard to come by. I hope that the Capital of Culture year opens the eyes of decision-makers and businesses to see how much can be achieved with very reasonable investments. This would be particularly important for securing sufficient income for us who professionally facilitate the cultural interests of the general public. One dimension of the cultural climate is also the collaboration between different cultural operators, which I hope will grow even stronger as a result of this year.

How do you find Oulu at this present time?
Oulu is just the perfect size in terms of demand, offering, and accessibility. There are the opportunities, the facilities, and the potential to create art and culture. Of course, there are still challenges with certain unhelpful attitudes and practices but I’m sure the Capital of Culture year will help address those. The cultural offering in Oulu is diverse and it seems to resonate with the audiences quite well.
How do you spend your spare time?
I tend to work even during my spare time, but I also have small children, with whom I spend time at home. The one thing that the pandemic has allowed me to do is to spend more time with my children than I’m usually able to. So there’s always a silver lining! Otherwise, I enjoy building and fixing all sorts of things and making music that hasn’t got anything to do with my work.

What will Oulu look and feel like in 2026?How do you think the Capital of Culture title will impact Northern Finland?
I’m sure the programme will be rich and I assume that the audiences will be hungry for all kinds of culture but also able to enjoy it to their hearts’ content. The indirect impact through added publicity is probably felt nationally.

Photo: Toni Pallari