Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Kat & Jared

Picture of Kat and Jared acrobatic duo at Varjakka revisited

Our cultural personalities of the week are the Finnish-Australian circus and dance artist couple Katariina ja Jared van Earle who moved to Oulu two years ago. Katariina’s background is in education theory and music while Jared’s is in the audiovisual sector and graphic design. They studied together to become professional circus artists in Madrid and finally returned to Katariina’s hometown Oulu in 2019.

Acrobatic duo Kat & Jared creates pieces of work that are suitable for varying environments, touching and meaningful by embedding different art forms to their pieces, and by handling, through the means of art, different themes that are emerging in the society. In the spring 2021, Shapes of Water, a piece of modern dance that utilises video art and projections premiered. It is about the different states of water in our surrounding Northern area as climate change accelerates, and its materials have also been taken into the neighbouring area’s bodies of water during the summer. Theatrical version of Shapes of Water was created with financial support from Arts Promotion Centre Finland, Oulun Tähtisirkus and Taikabox ry and will be performed during the upcoming winter in Valvesali, Kalajoki and the University of Oulu. Last summer, the duo addressed the history of female work in their 2×4 piece in Varjakansaari and they are planning a piece addressing immigration together with the members of Arctic Ensemble circus company and bodily dialogue investigating Negotiation, Danish-Finnish choreographer and audio engineer. As freelance artists, Kat & Jared diversely collaborate with Northern cultural operators and in the future, you can spot them in Flow Productions’ immersive piece Varikko and Oulu Theatre’s Kaboom ja kuvittelun voima. Katariina and Jared love storytelling and waking up feelings through movement.


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

Absolutely amazing! We want to build a home of Oulu where art can live and do well, a city where it is good for a freelancer artist to live in. Oulu’s upcoming Capital of Culture title creates spark for rich collaboration between different cultural operators and the city, employment for professional and amateur artists, development of spaces dedicated to art and culture and in general, creates buzz and bubbles to the city’s cultural life. This is an opportunity to be a performing artist who stays and roots into their own Northern hometown instead of experiencing continuous insecurity and being on the run, or instead of moving to the South.


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

That culture is truly supported. That words become actions. Culture would be appreciated for the culture and there would no longer be a need each time to justify how many euros we are saving from healthcare by investing in culture or how many euros of indirect income cultural events create. Just like actions against climate change, the need for Cultural Climate Change is already acknowledged but now it is the time for actions. We are handling Cultural Climate Change from the same starting point as climate change by recognising the meaningful experiences and important moments in our life and acting according to these values. Nature and culture create wellbeing and these are historically part of an individual’s deepest essence. This is understood by everyone who really stops to wonder during which moments they have experienced feelings of happiness, meaning and freedom. Society’s infrastructure, work and basic functions are like roads through which an individual gets to nature or to culture. No one wants to spend their whole life only building roads. Cultural Climate Change is that we truly learn to value, in addition to these shiny and fast roads, those places to which these roads take us and those who give new power into building the roads: culture and nature.


How do you find Oulu at the moment?

Oulu has a lot of operators who have the will to fight for culture and to create culture. Oulu is a city of amazing potential. Beautiful, marine and small but also large enough that you are able to and its worth to organise events, do theatre, play music, run a gallery, dance, move and enjoy life! Katariina, who is from Oulu, has always felt that Oulu has a lot of places to express oneself but also having these places requires that also in the future, there are opportunities and spaces also for grass roots operators such as Tilaa kulttuurille ry and Kulttuuribingo. At the moment, Oulu yearns for a non-hierarchical meeting place for those hungry for culture and active young people just like how Kulttuuribingo operated in the city centre of Oulu from 2012 to 2017. Future professional artists, politicians and events producers need inspiring and informal operating environments to develop. Just Valve and City Theatre, though vitally important, are not enough on their own to create a lively cultural city and this must also be remembered in the future.


How do you spend your spare time?

We love our work, and our spare time and work mix easily into an all-encompassing life that is full of creating art and exercise. During the winter, we also go snowboarding at Ruka and during the summer, we go to the summer cottage. We relax with a good book or in the company of our friends. And of course, while in Oulu, we go, see and experience lots of culture!


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

During 2026, there will be plenty more professional dancers and circus artists living in Oulu, just like people in the artistic sector in general. People will move to Oulu for the city’s good cultural offering, cultural studies, to work in the cultural sector and for good practice spaces, recreational opportunities and performing opportunities. Hopefully, a new performing arts centre, similar to Helsinki’s Kaapelitehdas, has also been created to Oulu, for example to the spaces of the City Depot to support the Capital of Culture project and these long-term goals.


Photo: Gaby Merz


Cover photo: J-P Manninen

Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Brent Cassidy


“Éist le fuaim na habhann agus gheobhfaidh tú breac. Listen to the sound of the river and you’ll catch a trout -That’s my motto.”

Our cultural personality this week is Brent Cassidy, an Irish American musician, storyteller and Gaelic speaker from North Carolina who has lived in Oulu for 20 years. Friends call Brent Pentti Kassinen, but he prefers Pentti.

In 2006, Brent founded The Irish Festival of Oulu alongside several friends and fellow musicians as a way to play and experience more Irish music. Yes, it was a wild dream, an Irish culture festival not far from the Arctic Circle, but it has become the premier Irish festival in the Nordics attracting 95.000 people as well as many of the best Irish performers on the planet.

Brent has also been an entrepreneur for 20 years with his company, Gaelic Culture Productions, through which he has co-founded, produced or consulted additional Irish festivals throughout Finland. Currently, he is working to further develop and unite the Irish music and culture scene in Finland for the Finnish artists and fans a like.  As well, he has produced successful Global Greening Irish culture light installations promoting the synergy of Irish and Finnish cultures together that have garnered global attention to Oulu.

“Simply put, it’s been all about the craic. My passion burns bright for Irish music and culture and sharing this experience with fans, musicians, friends and colleagues from all walks of life is the most rewarding aspect of all.” Brent summarizes.

Photo: Mikko Törmänen / The Global Greening Photo in Ice


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

I think it is brilliant because now people from Europe and the world will easier discover the beauty and cultural richness of Oulu and the Northern municipalities, something that has drawn people like me here to begin with many years ago. Cultural tourism will increase and more people will experience our cultural events, the beauty of our region and this will inspire and increase the opportunities for Oulu and its citizens.  Together, we all have the opportunity to be creative and hospitable welcoming people outside of Oulu and Finland here. We, the people make Oulu special!


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

To me, Cultural Climate change means more opportunities, recognition and cultural funding to those of us artists and organisations working in the 3rd sector who have been professionally, persistently and passionately promoting and organising cultural events and our own productions in Oulu for years. We truly work with passion and a high quality professional level. I hope the change comes to better support us, the northern 3rd sector actors and organisations especially, who have challenges in cultural funding success when compared to the support that is distributed in Finland as a whole, especially in the south.


How do you find Oulu at the moment?

Oulu is a northern treasure with a rich cultural history with much to offer its people and visitors. As an Oululainen ihiminen, Oulu has a wonderful northern Finnish character, culture and humour that is colourful and attractive. I mean, Oulu is home to some really creative culture events, people and artists. As the Irish culture mecca of Finland, it’s amazing that here Irish music and culture and The Irish Festival of Oulu can flourish and all of our visitors especially from abroad always comment on the hospitality of the Oulu citizens they meet and share experiences with. “We are all in Oulu” has always been our theme, meaning also “why are you not here? Oulu is truly the place to be. “


How do you spend your spare time?

Playing traditional Irish music, surfing, SUP boarding, mountain hiking, cooking, smoking pulled pork barbecue the national dish of North Carolina, writing, cross country skiing, open ice swimming, enjoying Oulu nature, playing UNO, and spending time with my friends and especially time with my family.


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

I hope Oulu will look and feel culturally wiser with a more forward thinking mindset in regards to supporting artists, culture sector operators and agents while enhancing inclusive opportunities for all people living here. The Capital of Culture title will further promote the cultural tourism and richness of Northern Finland.


Cover photo: Sergei Kopytin. Brent (on the right side) performing at the University of Oulu’s Festival of Cultures with Markus Lampela

Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Katja Sutela


Our cultural personality of the week is Katja Sutela, a University Lecturer in Music Education at University of Oulu. She currently lives in Liminka. Katja is also a post doc researcher in a research project connecting science and art, funded by Kone Foundation. In her research for the project, she examines the experiences of deaf people in music education, and of sound as a phenomenon. Katja hopes that through the research we gain more knowledge on sound as a multisensorial phenomenon, and through that we can develop music education’s pedagogical practices to a more inclusive direction. Katja is also a singer-songwriter who makes her own music and performs “irregularly regularly”. For example, you can hear Katja’s music and thoughts on 10th October in Taustatarinaklubi in Oulun vanha pappila.


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

Well, it was an unspeakably amazing thing – I’m really glad and excited about this opportunity to be involved in developing Oulu and the Oulu region to a more culturally diverse direction. I live in Liminka so I’m hoping that this project will also create some positive buzz to the municipalities surrounding Oulu. In Liminka, there are already many good things that you can start building into a more diverse offering in the field of culture and art.


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

I would like to see it make us recognise and acknowledge the various ways of knowing, mastering and participating in art and culture. Not only through the established cultural and artistic methods but also through the new, innovative ways of understanding the world. Additionally, I wish that it makes the diversity of nature, people and the whole life more visible in the field of culture.

Cultural Climate Change also creates the opportunity to process the changes happening in the Northern nature and its associated feelings, maybe even fears, through means of art. Maybe that would help us to see ourselves, vulnerability of nature and the connection between these two. We all need each other, and I hope that the Capital of Culture project enables participation to art also for those who it has not previously been possible, for one reason or another.


How do you find Oulu at the moment?

I feel that Oulu needs this Capital of Culture project acutely, more than others. There is a feel of stagnation after the coronavirus pandemic, the state of emergency and its restrictions. People need joy and hope, sense of togetherness, collaboration and encounters through art. I hope that the different events and communal operating models brought by the Capital of Culture serve as the remedy to this. There is plenty of nice things around the Oulu region, we just need to see the good, and cherish and feed to it.


How do you spend your spare time?

I go to gigs, concerts, theatre and art exhibitions. Most recently, I went to listen to Ismo Alanko and the Oulu Symphony Orchestra at Madetojan sali, and visited the Kenen luonto exhibition at Cultural Centre Valve. I read books, walk around in the forests with a dog called Riki and drive my younger child to cheerdance practice.


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

In the year 2026, Oulu is colourful, warm cultural city encouraging low threshold participation where music plays around the city, and where citizens get to do artistic things together all year around. Hopefully, the artificial walls preventing cooperation between different institutions have become lower and cross contamination happens from one side to the other. Northern Finland will gain longer term benefits from this because opportunities for creating art will grow in this region and will employ professionals in the cultural industry here.


Photo: Jaani Föhr


Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Anni Kinnunen

Our cultural personality of the week is Anni Kinnunen (born in 1978 in Oulu), a visual artist with a photographic way of thinking, who has attracted interest both nationally and internationally. Her work mainly centres around photography and video art though over the years, she has expanded this to materialistic installation pieces. Anni’s most recent exhibition, Safewords, is displayed in Galleria Harmaja in Oulu until 26th September.

Anni is herself the object of the camera but the pieces are not self portraits. In the photos, there are several different characters that reflect the mindset of the creator and the atmosphere of the era. The photo shoots are also authentic and not built on an image processing software. Although these shoots manage to fully avoid this imagery imitating reality, her photos should never be considered as being true.

Anni’s first personal exhibition was dislayed in Northern Photographic Centre in 2005. Her pieces have been showcased in multiple international exhibitions in places such as Germany, Denmark, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Italy, Japan, China, Russia, Canada and the United States. In Finland, her work has been displayed in several notable exhibitions such as Nuoret exhibition in Kunsthalle Helsinki (2009), Mänttä Art Festival (2013, 2018) and Pohjois-Suomen biennaali Lumipalloefekti (2012, 2014, 2016). There has been two photography books (2007, 2013) published of her work, and her pieces are also part of the collections at institutions such as Oulu Museum of Art, City of Tampere and State Art Commission.


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

It feels good! One of my pieces was used during the bidding phase for the cover of a leaflet intended for international distribution. Otherwise, due to my own workload, I have not had much time to familiarise myself with the project though I do wish that I can take part in building the festival year itself.


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

I would present the question how do you, for example, get professionals in the cultural industries to stay in Oulu instead of majority of them moving to the capital and its surroundings? This would directly impact the fact that there would then be creators here to change the Cultural Climate, and also more opportunities to find similar people to collaborate with.

Personally, I attempt to produce visually interesting exhibitions that handle thematically different phenomenons visible in the society. My aim is to not only change the Cultural Climate of Oulu, but to highlight topics important to me on a wider scale through means of visual art. In the collection currently displayed in Galleria Harmaja, one of the topics addressed is violence.


How do you find Oulu at the moment?

I continually like Oulu more and more. To me, Oulu is a place where there is room to live and work in peace – something that is a lot more difficult to find in larger cities. However, living in Oulu requires you to also be actively involved in activities held Helsinki and the whole of Finland, including abroad. This year, I will still have a personal exhibition in Helsinki’s Galleria Halmetoja, and I am also invited to be a part of the Kerava Art Museum’s exhibition Ilmassa – On the Air.


How do you spend your spare time?

There is no pattern that exists for it. I try to keep my spare time plans free! I have never known how to answer this questions for the reason that I work whenever and all that I do intertwines into one thing that I call life. During the summer, I do enjoy going for runs and swimming.


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

This is now the opportunity for us to show everything that we are able to do! Pikisaari has been at the centre of the project. It is also where my studio is based in. I’m keen to see whether urban development preempts culture.


Anni Kinnunen: The Big Sleep

Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Eija Ranta

Our cultural personality of the week is Eija Ranta, a movement artist from Hailuoto. Body movements and experiences of movement are her work materials. Since last autumn, Eija has been conducting artistic research and organising movement art workshops to the citizens of Hailuoto that focus on investigating one’s own creative movements through different exercises. “Each body movement is individualised, just like one’s handwriting is. In my research, I prioritise what happens inside the body when moving, and what is moving the body over what the movement itself looks like.” tells Eija.


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

Absolutely amazing! It is great that Hailuoto, together with other regional municipalities, are involved in the project, and that we are also showcasing small communities and their skills. The Finnish art scene is understandably located mainly in the South and big cities because majority of people live in urban areas. The Capital of Culture title is an amazing opportunity to create new unique experiences outside these urban areas since Europe is now coming to visit us!


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

Above all, it is the change that will make culture and art accepted as an essential part of people’s daily lives and wellbeing.

In my artistic research, I’m searching for ways that allow the viewer to feel a stronger connection to themselves and through that, to the surrounding nature. Creativity is the deepest essence of humanity rather than being something that creative individuals implement. Cultural Climate Change has a far reaching impact to personal wellbeing and through that, to the wellbeing of our surrounding nature.


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

The journey towards the celebratory year will raise Northern Finnish creators and their skills to a whole new level, and increase collaboration in the whole region in ways that we are unable to imagine. It will create jobs, things to do, experiences and wellbeing, addition to new operational models that will develop into new habits. The preparation for the celebratory year will show what the true value of culture and art is, tangible and intangible.


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?

Probably a lot. Culture will bring different types of individuals closer to each other, and will give them the opportunity to celebrate our customs and the diversity of our cultures. Art connects, creates new links and ways of understanding that language and verbal communication are unable to do. Living and visiting countries where I didn’t speak the language, gave me the opportunity to investigate people’s living habits and be together with them without the need for words. Those life situations have taught me the most about life and myself, and have made grow as an artist. Through interaction we can learn to see close again. Through someone else’s eyes, we can learn to appreaciate the beauty and uniqueness of the surrounding nature in a whole new way.


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

Like the centre of European culture where art and culture have a special position. And its impact carries far into the future.


Photo: Aino Väänänen

Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Justin Howard – Nordic Thunder

Our Cultural Personality of the week is Justin Howard also known as Nordic Thunder. Justin is 2012 Air Guitar World Champion and the people’s mayor of the great city of Oulu.


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

I think it’s absolutely fantastic and very appropriately fitting that Oulu will be the 2026 European Capital of Culture.  It is my belief that Oulu has already been a sort of culture capital for quite some time.  Oulu is like a top of a bridge that unites many cultures and ways of life and possesses a unique and special type of magic that is felt when you are in her presence.  And if one is willing, they can accept that invitation to explore and grow as a human being.  I’m excited at the prospect of people accepting that invitation!


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

The theme, I believe, invites the participants to think a bit more open mindedly than just what is on the surface.  In order to create lasting change, one must be willing to change the culture around the change that is desired.  And change isn’t easy.  We collectedly as human beings must be willing to make changes within our existing cultures in order to foster lasting change that betters not only our own lives but the lives of those around us.  And those changes that we make have the capability to change the world for the better while they continue to evolve and usher in a new way of existing.


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

I think Northern Finland, and Oulu specifically, are already front runners for the advocation of higher thinking and existing.  I believe in significantly impactful ways Norther Finlanders already have an innate way of sharing their evolutionary ways in which humans can exist in and with peace on this planet, so by receiving this honor of being the 2026 European Capital of Culture, Oulu and her Northern Finnish municipalities will have a wider audience in which they can share their creative, loving, and inviting cultural ways with not only Europe but the rest of the world.


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?

Oulu has taught me many things.  One of which is the less I know the more I am able to learn.  And learning doesn’t have to look like one thing or another.  Learning some of life’s most important lessons can be felt and blossom over time into beautiful new tools for life’s journey.  I think if we all can lean into the idea that we don’t have all the answers but if we take steps in the direction of educating ourselves, listening to our neighbors, and embracing cultural differences that we all have and do so through a lens of unconditional love, then the table is set for some spectacular ways to collaborate on making the world a better place.  Us humans are all so similar and all so different at the same time, so this collaboration is a huge opportunity for so much positive growth.


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

I have no idea what Oulu will look like in 2026 but I feel strong in that I believe it will feel like it does now only much “wider”.  Oulu possesses a strong energetic pull towards a higher plane of thinking and existing.  Again, it is one that I believe is rooted in love and acceptance.  I have experienced and witnessed it firsthand and it has changed my life for the better.  It has helped shape me to the man I am today and the man I strive to be for the future.  Knowing that Oulu will be “in the spotlight” in 2026 has me excited and hopeful that more people will be invited in to explore these ideas around love and acceptance not only in their own lives but in the communities in which they live.


Picture: 2013 Air Guitar World Championships, Maiju Torvinen