How to be a Bohemian in Vienna

Getting connected and funded as a foreign artist – with a little help from City Hall

For creative professionals, Vienna could be the New York of the 1960s or the early ‘90s in Berlin. Back then, as here now, artists can find affordable rents and living costs and time to actually make art, as well as friends destined to be part of future canons gathering in intimate smoky bars or cafés. With today’s prices, the Big Apple certainly no longer compares to the mythical era when Warhol came into his own – although NYC still draws artists hoping for their chance.

Once the bohemian epicenter of the Secessionists, Vienna today is a place for contemporary artists to live, work and maybe, just maybe, really make it. But just how much starving is involved in being an artist in Vienna?

A self-employed artist is often confronted with curious second questions like “No, I mean, what is your real job?” Yes, it is true, the art world is not a fair workplace for creatives. You will be asked to work long and hard, exploiting your body, mind and soul for low pay (if any), usually in the name of passion and a higher cause. But Vienna is exceptional, since its “infrastructure” makes the blow comparatively soft.


In the United States, many have to sell-out to pay the rent, and wind up getting sponsored by energy drinks you would never touch, or look to private or corporate pots of gold.

In Vienna, the Federal Government supports artists generously with public funding. The art sector of the Federal Chancellery (Bundeskanzleramt, BKA) posts open calls for art prizes, stipends, atelier space, residencies and grants both locally and internationally. In addition, the MA 7, the Cultural Section of the City of Vienna, tops up projects too. You can qualify if you have lived in Vienna for at least three years, but collaborations with locals may also be a way to access this support sooner. Or at the very least get help translating the Cultural Section’s website. Be warned, however, that most of these perks come with age restrictions.


Vienna is urban, but also a bit provincial. This is, of course, charming, but it can also be very helpful when it comes to meeting key people for your fragile art career. It is possible, for example, to meet a high-profile curator in a low-key way at openings at major art institutions like the 21er Haus, Mumok, or the Kunsthalle. This is essential, as many find that the art world runs on nepotism rather than merit. Cultivate your gift of the gab, so you can easily make friends up-close and professional at creative hotspots like gallery openings on Schleifmühlgasse or at the former Anker Brotfabrik. Smaller venues are also a good entry point. Exhibitions are open communication zones to find independent art collectives or atelier space (see On Sale p 59, Events p 46).

Artist Insurance

Though the Federal Government recognizes the profession “artist,” you have to be making money from your artwork to qualify. If so, you are eligible for artist insurance at SVA.

If your practice is mostly pro-bono, the unemployment agency AMS caters to the artist’s plight. TEAM4 is just such a service, for artists between projects or in a financial rut. The fine print on the bureaucratic papers can be a headache and may not suit your artist work-life-balance. Practice patience.

Grounds for Visa

Austria offers residence permits to international artists, employed and self-employed. However, you will have to prove that you can survive here before you arrive here. A kinder welcome for out-of-town artists comes with a Fulbright Fellowship or invitation to an artist’s residency via KulturKontakt or the prestigious Quartier 21 at the MQ.


The Artist’s Helpers

Federal Chancellery (BKA)
Announcements of prizes, grants and residencies.

City of Vienna – Cultural Section. Funding and support for artists.

Insurance and social-security services for artists
5., Wiedner Hauptstr. 84-86
(0) 5 08 08 -0,

Their Artist’s Service (KünstlerInnenservice) gives support to artists between jobs. Run by the AMS.
1., Salztorgasse 1

Funds artists in residence 

Quartier 21
Funds and houses artists in residence
MQ, 7., Museumsplatz 1

Austrian Foreign Ministry
You need a residency permit to be an artist in residence. Check with the foreign ministry to find the information for your country.

Online community for artistic interns.

IG-Kultur Wien
The Cultural Interest Group of Vienna. Helps with questions surrounding being an artist.

Contemporary off space
on facebook as

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