Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: The Vaara Collective

kuvassa Vaara-kollektiiviOur Cultural Personality of the Week is the Vaara Collective. Vaara is an independent team of practitioners and artist collective in the performing arts from Kajaani, active since 2014. Vaara’s activities include premieres, applied art, and events. The collective takes their shows and their applied art projects on tours all across Northern Finland.


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

It is a great thing for Northern Finland and a great opportunity. We feel confident and good.


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

Vaara has grappled with ecological themes since its very founding. For years now, we’ve been making dramatic environmental education for young people, as well as shows that burst out from the local and send their tendrils all the way to the global challenges posed by climate change. The Ärjä Art Festival is our proposal for a different kind of festival that goes on journeys. For us, Cultural Climate Change will probably mean a continuity with this process. It is a chance to consider how arts and culture can create communal spaces for meeting each other sheltered from the winds and breezes of our age.


How do you find Oulu at this present time?

Whenever we visit from our inland home, we can tell there’s a wind and a crackle from the sea! So it’s looking good, as long as we can keep our hats on.


How do you spend your spare time?

Roaming through the woods howling like wolves. No, just kidding. Kajaani is a brilliant, lively little town, and that’s where most of us live. We enjoy that small town life like it’s Moominvalley with some great soirées and cultural get-togethers. At times we do go out to the country or into the woods, in the style of Chekhov, to gather mushrooms.


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

When our year as the capital is done, the sun will shine and autumn will never again chill Oulu. We hope the project will have a widespread energizing effect on Northern Finland, so that when it makes landfall it will keep blowing all the way to Suomussalmi. We’re looking forward to this great project in good spirits!

Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Luovat Askeleet


Our Cultural Personality of the Week is Luovat askeleet, a multiprofessional, cross-disciplinary artistic group comprised of Johanna Aromaa, Pauliina Lappi, Päivi Mettovaara, and Merja Männikkö. The working group weaves dance, music, community art, pedagogy, writing, and research into one experiential canvas. Luovat askeleet springs from the Esteetön ry society for cultural well-being, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Esteetön ry has a long record of working for equal access in the Oulu region.



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


We are happy to work together with others to create Cultural Climate Change. Collaboration requires mutual trust and understanding diversity as a resource; that way we can become more than the sum of our parts together.


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


Love, freshness, joy of life, and new strength for all ages! Hurrah for our courageous Oulu and its region!


How do you find Oulu at this present time? 

The spirit of Oulu is one of daring, uncomplicated attitudes, and everyday compassion. Let’s have the courage to be ourselves!


How do you spend your spare time? 

Creativity and play are a way of life for us.

We challenge all adults to come together in play and make space for creativity both in work and in leisure. The creativity is already within us!


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

By 2026, creativity will be everywhere. Art will win more room to flourish and new ways to grow. Creativity will shimmer across us people and our surroundings like a cultural Northern Lights,  bringing people together!


Picture: Luovat Askeleet

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: 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