26 European cities present at the 8th Culture Next conference in Aveiro, Portugal

group of people in front of atlas library in aveiro

Culture Next Cities Network discussed plans for the next two years and agreed upon launching a new call for official membership. The call will be open to all current and former candidate cities for the title of European Capital of Culture.

The 8th Culture Next Conference was hosted in Aveiro, Portugal during October 12th and October 14th in the presence of representatives of 26 cities from 16 European countries. The conference was a space for inspiration and networking with the Aveiro cultural community, but also with the New European Bauhaus network, with the MESOC consortium for measurement of the social impact of culture, with the Culture Action Europe network team, and with the newly established EIT for Culture & Creativity.

Oulu2026 has been part of Culture Next -network since 2019 and holds a seat in the Board. “We have been involved in the activities of the network since our candidate stage. The discussions with candidate cities in different situations have helped our journey to become the European Capital of Culture. It’s a great platform to build long-term cooperation with the cities involved in the ECoC process, whether you are the winner or the loser of the title”, says Executive producer Henri Turunen.

Established in 2017, Culture Next Cities Network is dedicated to European Capital of Culture candidates, current or former, awarded or not. The network supports them to manage their cultural planning and implementation in a manner that is more sustainable, no matter if the cities are awarded the ECoC title or not. 

The Network is expanding to 23 member cities

The calendar of the network includes two conferences every year, an internal mobility programme, three thematic working groups working on cultural issues, the elaboration of a cities guide to create cultural strategies for sustainable development and the implementation of a joint Cities Fund for Culture. Moreover, Culture Next is establishing a policy task force to bring a contribution to the European cultural agenda, including to the ECoC reform needed.

After years of activating informally, Culture Next is now working at increasing its capacity to accommodate and support more member cities to implement their ECoC programmes. A call for cities will be open starting from November the 1st to select 23 European cities, current or former ECoC candidates, as members of the network.

Culture Next is funded by the European Union to increase network capacity

Until the end of 2024, the activity of Culture Next is funded by the European Commission through the Creative Europe programme. The general objective of the grant is to increase the capacity of Culture Next to support more candidate cities to implement ECoC programmes and, therefore, to enhance the legacy of the European Capital of Culture project.

The network has established a Board of six representatives of the member cities, intercity teams working on joint initiatives and an extended Secretariat hosted in Cluj-Napoca to take care of all operations.

”Last week in Aveiro we shared an important moment in the history of Culture Next, with 26 cities coming together to discuss the future of the network and the ways in which we can support our cities’ sustainable development through culture. We are now ready to start a new chapter of our journey together and to welcome 23 European cities in our network”, says Ștefan Teișanu, Executive Director of the Cluj Cultural Centre and Secretary General of Culture Next.


Combining Art and Technology for Oulu2026

Oulu has been a high-tech hub for many years. After all, it’s the home town of Nokia – an international frontrunner in mobile communications, now leading the way in the development of 6G, or sixth-generation wireless technology,

“For many years, Oulu’s image has been a little bit hard,” says Henri Turunen, Executive Producer for Oulu2026.

“Being Europe’s culture capital in 2026 gives us an opportunity to soften up our image with the help of art and culture. But we shouldn’t forget that technology remains a cornerstone of the city. ”

How will technology help transform Oulu into a more vibrant and creative city in 2026?

“For Oulu 2026, technological innovation is not the main point. We focus on content. In our projects we first design the artistic content, then find the right technology to deliver it to the audience,” Henri explains.

He points out that a state-of-the-art fairy tale wall in Oulu’s main library is a good example of how Oulu2026 aims to combine art and technology.

The fairy tale wall is a large interactive touch screen that creates a magical immersive space for children. In addition to watching and getting involved with a fairy tale, the screen has an option to create a snowstorm, make waves in a river, build a pile of colourful autumn leaves and even chase northern lights – all that simply by drawing with fingers. There’s also a panel where users can play musical instruments. What makes the screen even more unique is that you don’t even have to touch it: the surface is so sensitive that it reacts to hand waves.

“The wall uses cutting-edge digital technologies from the gaming and mobile communications industries to achieve a very high level of touch sensitivity.

But children just want to enjoy the beautiful pictures and sounds of the fairy tale and creating magic themselves. They couldn’t care less about the technology inside,” argues Henri.

To make the touch screen accessible to as many children as possible in Oulu, it has been set up with five languages: Finnish, Oulu dialect in Finnish, Swedish, English and Ukrainian.

“We wanted to make sure from the very start that it would be easy and cost-efficient to include different languages in the product,” says Olli Rantala, Manager of the city of Oulu’s TechArt project that created the fairy tale wall.

“We wanted to make this cultural experience available to Ukrainian children who have fled the war. We have many refugees here in Oulu and we want them to enjoy this interactive experience in their native tongue.”

Oleg, a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy living in Oulu, says that goal has been achieved.

“Ukrainian children arriving in Oulu don’t speak Finnish. When they see this fairy tale in Ukrainian, they’ll feel welcome and that’s very important.”


“There will be a lot of TechArt projects in Oulu2026, says Henry Turunen. We’ll be building on the success of existing events such as the Lumo light festival.”

Lumo is a mainly outdoor event featuring light installations. It’s held in November which is the darkest time of the year in Oulu.

“One thing we’re looking at is how to enable visitors to control the installations themselves and change the pieces of art or even create new art at Lumo in 2026,” says Henri.

Get involved

Oulu2026 will launch an open call on 3 October 2022 for partners to help create its cultural programme. Applications for TechArt projects will be welcome from both Finnish and international parties.

You can find more information about the open call at https://www.oulu2026.eu/en/opencall/

The fairy tale wall will be at the Oulu main library (Kaarlenväylä 3, 90100 Oulu) until 14 August 2022

Video and text by Erika Benke