Located by the River Pajakkajoki in the eastern part of Finland, Kuhmo is a picturesque city with a culture embedded in nature. At a time when the world is changing as a result of climate change and increased industrialisation, Kuhmo is pioneering renewable energy techniques and solutions while cultivating its folk traditions. Since the 19th century, the city has played an essential role in the birth of Kalevala and in the development of Karelianism in Finland, both of which significantly influenced the arts at the turn of the 20th century. Due to its position as a gateway to Viena, many people, including the creator of the Kalevala, Elias Lönnrot, travelled through the city, spreading oral poetry, Finnish folklore and mythology. Today, the National Epic Kalevala is now cherished by the nation, and Kuhmo, as it’s birthplace, a renowned literary attraction with over 80,000 visitors every year.
To promote literature on a local and international scale, Kuhmo organizes annual writer visits and literary events, including activities and seminars based on the runosong tradition of the Kalevala at the The Runosong Academy. Funded by the city and the Academy of Finland, Kuhmo also hosts writers' lectures at the Man and Space Event in the Kuhmo Art Center. The Sommelo international music festival is another popular annual occasion that brings together runo singing and other forms of old and contemporary folk music, supporting not only traditional literature but fostering modern interpretation and increasing awareness surrounding the art form.
One of the key focuses of the city strategy is culture, with particular attention given to developing creativity and literacy skills in children. Embedded in the school curriculum, children are introduced to the history of the Kalevala and taken to Juminkeko to develop a greater understanding of this local tradition. This goal was further supported by the ‘In the Story Train Project’, in which children aged 3 to 6 visited the libraries to get tips for the reading. Reading passports were given to the children and when full of stamps, they would receive a book prize. As well as inspiring children to be interested in reading, the initiative also aimed to inspire both children, and their parents, to use the local library.
As a Creative City of Literature, Kuhmo envisages:
- promoting and increasing access to literature through schemes including ‘Help Yourself Library’;
- organising and funding collaboration events to promote knowledge sharing and synergies within the literary community on a local, national and international scale;
- cooperating with the schools to promote engagement with traditional art and literature through incorporating them into academic curriculum;
- promoting city literary tourism by supporting small and medium-sized enterprises;
- implementing the “Kalevala Knowledge to Every Pocket and Handbag” project to promote the Finland's National Epic in different languages by producing a mobile application; and
- participating in a number of international projects within the Network as a channel for cultural exchange and cooperation.