University Campuses will be filled with culture in 2026 – program proposals are being accepted now!

yellow wall from university of oulu
Have you dreamed of a more lively university campus? Would you like to be able to enjoy the cultural activities also during the working day, for example during the lunch hour? Could the campuses of the University of Oulu offer an attractive cultural program in the evenings, which would encourage the members of our community to come to the campuses even after studying and working?

Creative Campus project is now looking for imaginative event ideas and enthusiastic cultural creators, with which we can together enliven our university in the European Capital of Culture year 2026.

Send your ideas by filling out the attached questionnaire: https://link.webropol.com/s/Oulu2026CampusAsAStage.

Event ideas are accepted until 31 March 2023. Uniresta’s coffee tickets will be drawn among the respondents.

The University of Oulu and OYY participate in the Oulu Capital of Culture Year program with their joint Creative Campus project, whose events consist not only of established events but also of new event concepts. One of the event concepts to be published in 2026 will be the Campus as a Stage event series. The aim of this event series is to open the community and interaction spaces of the University of Oulu’s campuses to the use of cultural actors for, among other things, concerts, performances and art exhibitions. The purpose of Campus as a Stage events is to strengthen community and well-being, and to bring culture closer to the everyday life of our university community.

Nearly 300 projects submitted in the Oulu2026 Open Call

Oulu is a 2026 European Capital of Culture. The Oulu2026 cultural programme is mainly built through a series of Open Calls, the second of which closed on 9 December. In total, 274 applications from Finland and 20 other countries were received.

open call i2022 results infographic

Oulu and the entire northern region of Finland will be filled with culture, art and events in the coming years. Northern Finland will emerge on the world map in an unprecedented way as Finnish and international cultural talents create a completely new programme in cities, the countryside and nature. The Capital of Culture project is a journey of several years, culminating in 2026.

“The first Open Call was open to everyone and took place during the European Capital of Culture bidding phase. The proposals we received at that stage were really ambitious and formed the basis for our Bid Book. I am delighted by the huge number of applications we have received through our most recent Open Call, and we are very excited to go through all the applications with our external evaluators,” says Samu Forsblom, Oulu2026 Programme Director, Oulu Culture Foundation.

The main theme of the culture programme is Cultural Climate Change. The culture programme is further divided into three main programme themes: Brave Hinterland, Wild City, and Cool Contrasts. The Open Call targeted projects with a far-reaching impact around these themes, requiring a longer time, even years, to prepare and realise. The “We are the Culture” Open Call for short-term, stand-alone community events and projects will open closer to 2026.

The Capital of Culture brings Europe together  

The Open Call was open to international applicants and proposals were received from 20 countries in addition to Finland. Some 90 percent of the proposals came from Finland, with 65 percent of these from the Oulu2026 region, and the remaining 35 percent from areas throughout the country, including Helsinki.

“One of the tasks of the Capitals of Culture is to promote collaboration between artistic and cultural creators in Europe. The cultural programme offers a platform for building an inspiring future for the North with a European dimension. I believe that, right now, the world needs cooperation much more than

separation,” says Forsblom.

The projects applied for a total sum of EUR 47,309,960 in co-funding. For the present Open Call, Oulu Culture Foundation has allocated co-funding worth EUR 5 million.

“The total sum of funding applied is nearly ten times the amount we have available. This shows that Northern Finland has more than enough creative potential to build a much wider cultural offering than is currently the case and that there is a demand for additional funding outside the framework of the Capital of Culture,” says Piia Rantala-Korhonen, CEO, Oulu2026, Oulu Culture Foundation.

The Oulu2026 team met with nearly 1,000 potential applicants in various events during the Open Call. The webinars concerning the Open Call process were registered by 700 persons, in addition to which face-to-face and online helpdesk clinics were also arranged.

The funding decisions will be announced by 31 May 2023.

Further information:

Samu Forsblom, Programme Director
Oulu Culture Foundation, Oulu2026
+358 (0)44 703 7558

Oulu: the world’s tar capital

Today Oulu is internationally renowned as a high tech city: a major centre of competence and innovation in information and health technology.

Two hundred years ago Oulu had a very different reputation. It was known as the tar capital of the world.

“Whenever people ask me about Oulu, I always tell them that Oulu became a very wealthy city because of tar,” says Helena Petäistö, a well-respected journalist who’s spent half of her life reporting from France for Finnish TV channel MTV.

Born and raised in the Oulu region, she’s acquired a great knowledge of the history of the tar trade and she’s keen to raise public awareness of it.

What is tar?

Wood tar is an oil-like substance that was exported in large quantities from Oulu in the 19th century. It was used for waterproofing wooden sailing ships around the world.

Tar was produced by burning pine wood in villages along the Oulu river. It was put into barrels and transported to Oulu harbour in specially designed tar boats from where it was shipped to all over the world.

There was a strong demand for tar in the 19th century.

“The biggest fleets of the world, including Britain’s, France’s and America’s, were all covered by tar from Oulu,” says Helena Petäistö.

Thanks to the booming tar trade, Oulu became the world’s biggest tar exporting port with the largest fleet of merchant ships of any Finnish city in the 1860s.

“Tar trade on a big scale started in Oulu in the 1850s,” says Patrik Franzén whose job at the Northern Ostrobothnia Museum includes looking after tar-related projects.

“It reached a peak in 1865 when 80,000 barrels of tar were exported to other countries. Each barrel contained 125 litres of pure tar.”

Patrik Franzén says the tar trade was extremely important for the region’s economy. It provided jobs for a large number of people, lifting them out of poverty and saving families from starvation throughout the 19th century.

Tar and Oulu2026

Oulu 2026 will reflect on the importance of Oulu’s tar trade in a number of ways.

One of the flagship events in the cultural programme is a new opera entitled ‘The Rise of the Tar Kingdom”. Commissioned for Oulu2026, it will tell a mythical story about Oulu’s history.

The opera will be a unique piece of art that aims to reach new audiences by showing the wild side of the city. In addition to the opera, there are plans to run several workshops and exhibitions throughout 2026 to bring back memories of the tar trade.

“In 2026 we want to smell tar and we want to work with it. When you smell tar, old stories come to life,” suggests Patrik Franzén.

“We have plans for workshops on how to make tar, how to make a tar barrel and perhaps even build a tar boat. It will be wonderful. We want to make history living again.”

Oulu’s tar trade began to decline in the early 20th century after steel replaced wooden planks on sailing ships.

But Helena Petäistö says Oulu has maintained a special connection with tar.

”In Oulu we say coffee is black like tar. And in restaurants and cafes here you can try tar ice-cream. Believe it or not, it’s very good!”


Art in the City: the Oulu2026 mural 

“In winter it might change people’s lives. They look at this painting and they remember that summers in Finland are always very nice.”

A piece of art with the power to change lives. A comment every artist longs to hear.

It came from a man looking admiringly at the outside wall of his tower block at Ruiskukkatie 3 in the suburb of Rajakylä in Oulu, where a giant painting was gradually emerging in September 2022.

The mural, part of the cultural programme of Oulu2026, attracted a lot of attention from residents.

It depicts a forest of birch trees at the height of the summer. It’s flooded with  bright sunlight. In the centre there’s a barefooted woman, repeated five times as she’s turning around to choose between two paths in the woods.

It’s a striking image. It stopped people in their tracks as they went about their everyday lives in Rajakylä. Many of them came to take a closer look and have a word with the artist painting the mural.

Eloise Gillow painting a mural on the wall of a 9 storey high block of flats

Eloise Gillow is from the United Kingdom. Over the last few years she’s been creating murals in public spaces in Spain, France, Italy and Ireland – artwork that’s bonded with local communities.

“People in Rajakylä have been very supportive. I first came here in August to get to know them and find out what’s important to them about living here.

“I met people at the school, the library and the community centre. They had lots of ideas for the mural,” reveals Eloise. “I made a sketch after narrowing them down to one big theme: change.”

The location of the mural was chosen by public vote. Residents across Oulu were invited to cast their votes to bring the mural to their neighbourhood – and the largest number of votes came in from Rajakylä.

“This shows that there’s a lot of support for bringing in culture to improve the area. People told me that Rajakylä was changing. It used to have a bad reputation but they were leaving that behind. I hope the mural captures that theme,” explains Eloise.

In addition to addressing large societal issues such as poverty and crime, Eloise’s murals also open up to interpretations regarding the connection between individuals and the natural world.

“This whole neighbourhood is integrated into the woods. My first impression was how beautiful it is, that all the buildings are between all this nature.”

Eloise says a key part of living in Oulu is having very prominent seasons and the mural definitely speaks to that.

“The mural is based on the summer when the birch trees have all their leaves. But the trees will now soon lose their leaves. The contrast between the painting and its surroundings will be a constant reminder of the changing seasons: it will remind people in the winter that summer is coming back.”

drone image of the rajakylä mural

Eloise finished working in Oulu on October 3, 2022 and the next day she jumped on a flight to start painting her next mural in Sweden. How easy is it for an artist to move from one big project to the next so quickly?

“Painting a mural is a very intense experience. I get kind of obsessed with it. In the evenings I look at photos of what I’ve done that day and compare them to my sketch. Then I wake up and look at the photos again at breakfast. It’s strange to do something so intensely and then go. But that’s what I do. I really hope that people in Rajakylä will like it and I leave behind a good piece of art for those who live here.”

Text: Erika Benke


More about the mural

Open Call for Artist Portfolios to create a mural in Oulu, Finland – Oulu2026

Oulu2026-muraali – Oulu2026 (in Finnish)