Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Jonna Kalliomäki



Our cultural personality of the week is Jonna Kalliomäki, a 35 year old visual artist (BFA, Visual and Performing Arts) with a masters in Applied Visual Arts and Nature Photography, from Kuusamo. In addition to art, photography, various types of content creation, and creative projects, Jonna acts as the Photo Competition Chairman of Kuusamo Nature Photo Festival, and as the Project Coordinator for Kuusamo in the international innovation network of artist residencies project. The project is currently piloting the Kuusamo Arctic Residence Center ARK. The residency programme in Kuusamo will collaborate with the area’s travel and nature services, as well as Northern universities, with who new operating models and ways of collaboration will be developed between art, science, nature and travel. “It feels great to offer artists and researchers around the world the opportunity to be inspired and work in this scenery. I believe that new cultural projects will make our lives even richer.” says Jonna about the residency project.

Jonna’s seaside hometown of Kristiinankaupunki was left behind long ago, and now she has been surrounded by the rugged forests and fells of Koillismaa. This new, Northern living area has captivated Jonna, and the local culture and nature have had a big role in it. Jonna’s work and spare time activities have always revolved around creative industries and she feels a extremely grateful that she gets to do work in an area she is passionate about.


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

On our level, this is probably one of those moments when you will be asked if you remember where you were when Finland won gold in IIHF World Championships, or what were you doing when Oulu won the title of Capital of Culture. I remember both moments. For the latter, I was in Kuusamo. I thought that finally something that has been worked hard for, yields a well deserved outcome. That joy was easy to identify with. It also felt in the first place like a common achievement, and I believe that this will unite us all even more.


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

When I heard what the theme was, I considered it from the perspective of art, and where culture is en route to from that perspective. Back in the year 2006, I remember being excited on my coffee break in my summer job, because I had been accepted to study visual arts. That was a breathless moment that has been drawn into my mind. However, I do notice that arts’ meaning in wellbeing, the economy, and regional development have been highlighted. I hope the same happens for all culture, so that an open-minded atmosphere would be the air we breathe and from which we absorb positive influences to ourselves. I want to believe that in the future, art and different forms of culture are part of our everyday life, so that it shows and is heard everywhere, and creativity is seen as an opportunity which will open new doors. By changing, things stays interesting.


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

There is something unique and exotic about the North. The Capital of Culture title will bring just the right amount of contrast to strengthen the region’s unique atmosphere. By means of art and culture, places become meaningful and collaboration between different fields will increase. I predict that creative industries will grow, and their meaning will be highlighted in the society.


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?

Things are always examined from the perspective of the place we operate in. When creating something new, it is good to pay attention to the local culture and environment and strengthen it, while also respecting that specific area. Art is a great tool to tell about one’s place of residence, traditions, culture, and to disclose things important to us. This creates conversation and information exchange. Interaction is the key to understanding and, if we are open, our spectrum will widen and we might see and experience something novel.


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

I would like to think that during 2026 we will see something that no one has even dared to envision and innovate before. Brave openers, experimental culture, experiences, taking over the city space, communality and participation. More than anything, Oulu2026 is a way of life through which creativity appears as an opportunity to express yourself and create something meaningful, thereby strengthening the bond to one’s own place of residence. Art and culture will be part of the environment, sustainable development, and the cityscape, thus highlighting the unique characteristics of the area. Oulu2026 will create a new zeitgeist. The North in the year 2026 will be something that everyone wants to experience.


Photo: Eeva Mäkinen

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