The Journey to the European Capital of Culture

The European Capitals of Culture (ECoC) are the most visible form of the European Union’s cultural support. It highlights the importance of cities as centres of cultural life. The selected city will have the opportunity to develop its activities culturally, socially and economically. The year brings with it a wide range of positive activities, such as international guests to the tourism and business sector, projects aimed at improving cultural infrastructure, national and international seminars, cross-border cooperation and cultural events.

The European Capital of Culture selection is made by an EU-appointed expert panel. Another European Capital of Culture 2026 is Trencin from Slovakia. For many cities, being The European Capital of Culture has led to long-lasting positive changes in culture, tourism, co-operation and urban landscape. Read more about the ECOC.

 The capitals of culture have been named since 1985 and are funded by the Creative Europe Programme. The nomination emphasizes the diversity of European cultures and enhances cultural exchange throughout Europe.

Our story

The bid began with workshops in the autumn of 2017, where children and students were asked how they see Oulu in the year 2026. During the year, various workgroups began mapping partner networks, did planning work and aligned objectives with the urban strategy of the City of Oulu. The first application was made in 2019 and submitted in 2020.

The whole cultural programming has been and will be using the design-thinking method, highlighting the bottom-up approach. Developing our application together has helped us to reconnect with our shared history, our identity and pride.

Since spring 2017 the bidding team has met hundreds of people in Oulu. Despite differences between groups, all have found some point of contact with Oulu’s bid. People were encouraged to think about their challenges and hopes for the future as well as their connection with Europe.

In autumn 2017 all elementary schools had the opportunity to participate in structured workshops. In facilitated workshops, pupils could tell about their dreams and what the future of Oulu in 2026 should be like. These values have led the bidding process towards the concept Cultural Climate Change.

The themes for Oulu2026 were published in February 2019. The big moment for everyone to take part in preparing Oulu’s bid was the Open Call for Programme Proposals during spring 2019. Anyone could suggest projects that they wanted to carry out by themselves or leave suggestions in the idea database for possible later use. The Open Call resulted in about 450 programme proposals and ideas! Next Open Call was arranged in 2022. This Open Call was specifically aimed for large-scale projects that take several years to prepare or carry out. Nearly 300 project proposals were received and 62 were selected to complement the Oulu2026 culture programme.

Aims of the Project

The most important aim of the Oulu2026 project is to create and bring culture, wellbeing, and vitality to our Northern region. Oulu, like many other European cities, faces many challenges in the near future, when the previously young city in terms of age structure quickly turns grey, the birth rate falls, and there is an especially high amount of youth unemployment.


Through Cultural Climate Change:

  • Oulu and the Northern region part of our project will radiate creativity, and become a vital city and region that attracts visitors, new residents, and takes care of their current citizens
  • The number of visitors in the city and the region increases, and it shows by refreshing the economy, the cityscape, hotels, and restaurants
  • In the future, we are a soulful city and region whose residents benefit from a lively city with a diverse range of cultural offerings
  • Individuals participating in cultural activity feel better and are more active
  • New audiences take part in cultural events, and culture strengthens its position as a builder of a better future
  • Increase in the number of creative jobs in Oulu and the project region
  • Northern Finland becomes more open and more international after European partnerships born from the application process and European Capital of Culture year have strengthened and renewed local skills
  • Northern Finland is more attractive, and our region is also noticed on a European level
  • Our small cities and towns will not become deserted after working-age people move to our city or even further away.

Cultural Strategy

Oulu’s exciting new Cultural Strategy, covering the period from 2020 until 2030, was approved by the City Council in January 2020. It builds on an earlier City-wide Strategy ‘Oulu2026 – The Light of the North’ defining concrete measures to become a vibrant, attractive and gripping city. Becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2026 is one of the core stepping-stones to reach our strategic goals. The future of Oulu is built around courage, fairness and responsibility. Values which we believe are fundamental not just to the future of Oulu, but also to Europe.

Oulu2026 and Northern Finland

Oulu is the core city for the development and delivery of the European Capital of Culture year, but we also want to include the wider “Oulu2026 region”. 39 municipalities have made official decisions to be part of the Oulu2026 area. A shared history and traffic network connect the cities in our region. This gives us a fascinating project area located between the borders of Russia and Sweden.

Read more about Oulu2026 region