WUK Werkstätten- und Kulturhaus

At this conference WUK is represented by Klaus Schafler, working for media and exhibitions at Kunsthalle Exnergasse / WUK.
Währinger Strasse 59, 1090 Vienna, Austria
Contact: Klaus Schafler
social / community center (art, culture, but also other fields)
non-profit association / NGO, established in 1981 by group of citizens

The autonomous cultural center WUK (short for Werkstätten- und Kulturhaus) in Vienna with its 12.000 m2 is considered one of the biggest complexes of its kind in Europe. It is rooted in the ideas and demands of the 1970s for spaces to enable contemporary cultural activities. Active participation, self-management, and grassroots democracy form the basic philosophy of WUK.

The WUK association was founded in 1979. The building complex, a former locomotive factory, was squatted in 1981, and official recognition was followed by the first subsidy from the City of Vienna.

WUK provides a venue as well as organizational support to those interested in art, politics, and social engagement. The WUK is based on three organizational mainstays: the venue (WUK Cultural productions, consisting of WUK Theatre, WUK Culture for Kids, WUK Music, and visual art in the Kunsthalle Exnergasse), its job training and counseling projects (WUK Education and Counseling), and the 130 autonomous groups (WUK Autonomy) working in the house.

WUK, Front


The WUK is a nonprofit organization. The legal entity is the “Verein zur Schaffung offener Kultur- und Werkstättenhäuser” (Association for the Creation of Open Culture and Workshop Houses).

A 6-member board heads the association and decides the strategic direction of WUK. At the annual general assembly of members, fundamental decisions (such as internal distribution of the available budgets) are made and, every two years, a new board is elected. The current 550 WUK members all have voting rights. Together with two managing directors, board forms the top level of the internal decision-making hierarchy.

The association’s organizational structure has meanwhile reached the level of a medium-sized enterprise with about 140 employees. This staff basically deals with event organization, public relations and communication, job training and counseling projects, and internal organization and administration.

The venue’s programming (WUK Cultural Productions) is done in different ways:

  • The departments of WUK Theatre, WUK Culture for Kids and WUK Music are headed by so-called “programmers” who decide the content of the events and programs.
  • In the field of the visual arts at WUK, at the gallery space Kunsthalle Exnergasse, the program is selected through an annual call for exhibition and project proposals, chosen by an advisory board of art professionals (from inside and outside the WUK) together with Kunsthalle Exnergasse.
  • WUK Education and Counseling develops and runs its programs through numerous projects with diverse main fields of attention. The WUK organization’s implementation of these projects very much depends on available public funds, which partly derive from a public call run by the Viennese municipality and from diverse Austrian Ministries and foundations.
  • The diverse groups of WUK Autonomy make autonomous decisions about the usage of their own spaces, resources, and projects. The WUK Forum is a coordination, discussion, and advisory committee for the groups and WUK board members.

Organizational openness:

These selected elements of organizational openness may be relevant:

  • fluctuation of ideas, spaces and people that are part of an organization / institution
  • open Calls for Project Proposals
  • Artist- and Curator-in-Residence Studios
  • participative and interactive practices and projects as part of the organization’s program
  • quickly-available, flexible and well-equipped spaces for working on (short-term) projects, campaigns etc.
  • little administrative effort is required to get involved in the organization or to be able to use its resources
  • open office structures including temporary working collectives combining organization members with people from outside the organization (learning organization)
  • renting of some spaces and equipment for free or at low prices
  • Some of the points above are partly realized and implemented at WUK, some not – especially the fluctuation aspect.

WUK, Courtyard

Venue/s / resources:

WUK’s 12 000 m2 industrial space contains different spaces for events of all kinds and sizes:

  • The Main hall provides the ideal surroundings and infrastructure for events in the fields of theatre, dance, and music as well as for public readings or company parties. Surface area: 400 m2; capacity: 200 seated / 500 standing.
  • The Foyer is best suited for parties, benefit events, readings, private parties, and smaller concerts. The built-in bar provides an added comfort. Surface area: 160 m2; capacity: 200 standing.
  • The two so-called Museum Rooms and their shared foyer offer atmospheric surroundings for workshops, seminars, readings, music, and small-scale performances. Surface area: Museum left and right each 60 m2, foyer with bar 30 m2; capacity: 70 seated per hall.
  • The distinct character of an early industrial workshop is preserved in the well-lit Project Space. This space lends itself perfectly to art projects, exhibitions and presentations from any field of activity. Surface area: 250 m2; vapacity: 120 to max. 250 people (depending on usage).
  • The Initiative Spaces are part of the autonomous sector “Sociopolitical Initiatives in WUK” (GPI) and are available for groups on the basis of a graduated administrative contribution and the observance of certain guidelines. These spaces are dedicated foremost to socio-cultural, political, intercultural, and non-profit activities. The remainder of the time they are available on an hourly basis for workshops, seminars, bodywork, training groups, etc. Surface area: Large Initiative Space: 97.3 m2, Small Initiative Space: 44.5 m2.
  • The Kunsthalle Exnergasse provides a spacious hall for exhibitions and events such as workshops, seminars, lectures, and book presentations. Surface area: 400 m2; capacity: c. 200 seated, c. 400 standing.
  • Fotogalerie Wien provides the following resources: 2 spaces for exhibitions (100 m2 + 40 m2) and a cinema (40 m2 including 36 seats).
  • Im_flieger is a project by artists for artists and offers space as a research facility and developmental lab.

Budget: more than €500,000

Co-productions: For example: WUK theatre / dance is a collaborator and co-producer for artists who are developing performances against the background of flexible working structures as freelancers. WUK provides support in all stages of production, such as conceptual design, funding, technical support, dramatic composition, and PR.

Hosting: WUK hosts and invites many non-in-house projects, events and programs. The diverse WUK spaces are mainly curated, such as the gallery spaces of Kunsthalle Exnergasse and Fotogalerie Wien, or the big WUK Hall which is mainly curated for concerts and the theatre + performance program. Sometimes those spaces are also rented to organizers of certain cultural, political, and social events. The prices for venue rent depend on how much WUK staff support is required, technical equipment, and so on. The so-called WUK Project Space is a non-curated space, which can be hired for fixed prices on a “first come first served” basis.

Some examples: The Kunsthalle Exnergasse invites projects via an annual Open Call for Proposals. The invited projects receive financial, organizational, technical, and PR support, and so on, to realize exhibitions and additional events such as lectures, screenings, and conferences. WUK Music invites international and local musicians and bands that are on tour and / or playing one gig at one selected Viennese venue. Depending on the event and its related contract, either musicians receive fixed fees or ticket revenues are divided between WUK and the musicians.

There is currently a noticeable tendency towards more WUK in-house productions, especially in the WUK theatre + performance program as well as at Kunsthalle Exnergasse.

Services: For example:
The ttp WUK (dancetheatreperformance WUK) is a self-managed collective in the WUK, offering work space for 26 groups from the independent scene active in the fields of theatre, dance, and performance. The ttp WUK offers a subsidised space for production, research, and training, including 3 rehearsal spaces, an office with computer, Internet access and telephone, and technical equipment. The collective provides a shared email address databank for promoting events by ttp groups and sends out common weekly newsletter is sent out. The ttp WUK offers the potential of a freely available space and thereby a position in its self-managed structure. Readiness to actively participate in the organisation is an admission requirement.

The autonomous sector Visual Art provides two Artist-in-Residence Studios.

Studio 1 is available for twelve months with an open call once a year. A selection committee of sector members decides the allocation.

Studio 2 is available for three months, allocated according to the ranking of applications at plenary meetings. The allocation of guest studio 1 requires the artist to attend the jury session in person and guest studio 2 requires the artist to visit the plenary meeting, possibly more than once. Furthermore, artists will require their own living space in Vienna.

A well equipped self-made Open Sound Studio run by sound technicians offers young musicians the opportunity to professionally mix and record projects and productions at affordable prices.

WUK, Kunsthalle Exnergasse - Tisch im Raum, exhibition - talk - dinner, 2009

International collaboration: For many years, the WUK has been a member of Trans Europe Halles (TEH), a European Network of independent cultural centers that connects cultural actors and institutions throughout Europe. TEH has taken important action in challenging established cultural policies and provides a platform for exchange, support, and co-operation among its members. The WUK participates and collaborates in meetings, projects, and staff exchange programs of TEH and other international platforms.

The venue’s programming (WUK Cultural Productions) involves collaborations with international artists, curators, and institutions.

Participation: Several activities and formats exist to involve citizens in WUK programs:
Artist talks and discussion events in the framework of exhibitions, Open Studio Nights including artist talks, guided tours through the WUK building complex and its history, workshops for children and seniors and so on.

Some exhibitions are focused on participative practices and some theatre productions invite citizens to take part as actors or extras. The Vienna Seniors’ Orchestra, which performs Viennese music, songs, and overtures, is particularly dedicated to actively involving seniors as musicians.

Gathering citizens:

The sociopolitical and intercultural initiatives and groups based at WUK not only try to offer citizens diverse services but also attempt to involve and gather citizens to participate in the campaigns and projects launched at or around WUK.

  • WUK Sociopolitical Activities: All the twenty-one groups in this sector actively deal with sociopolitical issues in the broadest sense. They range from organizations for cultural mediation, disabled people and environmental protection to self-help and human rights initiatives and four different seniors’ groups.
  • WUK Intercultural Activities: These groups, consisting of different nationalities, cultures, and languages as well as bicultural people, share a common understanding of democracy and the advocacy of emancipation. Their engagement ranges from supporting and representing migrants’ and asylum seekers’ interests and taking a stand against racism and xenophobia to the practice and mediation of art and culture.
  • WUK Bio.Pflanzen (WUK Organic.Plants) is a new project and new conceptual approach at WUK, not just because it operates outside Vienna. Together with a partner enterprise (an organic farm), it supports people in need of a job by giving temporary work to long-term unemployed people, in order for them to find their way back into the so-called “first job market”. This farm’s organic products are sold at a weekly organic market in the WUK courtyard and at some supermarkets. Active Seniors is an interest community that creates opportunities for the elderly to stay mentally and physically fit.

Neighborhood: Just a few:

  • From time to time, district-oriented events are organized in the public space surrounding the WUK, like social gatherings or events in the nearby park.
  • WUK also tries to work with local enterprises and buy products at small shops in the neighborhood.
  • A weekly organic food market is run in the WUK courtyard.
  • The annual WUK Maze including open studios and spaces, guided tours, and parties tries to open up the red-brick building complex to the public, especially to the immediate neighborhood.

Institutionalisation and independence:

  • a long-term contractual relationship has already existed for 30 years (“institutionalisation of the relationship“)
  • subsidies were “frozen” until 2009 (in 2009, after more than 20 years, the contracts were revised and the index was adjusted for the first time)
  • multi-year (3-year) funding contracts with the municipality of Vienna since 2009 (WUK used to receive funding contracts for only a year at a time)
  • evaluation, success metrics and similar criteria are becoming increasingly important; these include visitor and press review numbers, amounts of private sponsorship, efficiency criteria, political demands for “new audiences” and spectacle-, goal-oriented management (“neo-liberal pressure”)
  • the municipality is not directly involved in governance: WUK is independent in programming but depends on municipal subsidies
  • WUK is sometimes seen as an extension of the city administration in the (socio-)cultural field (“apparatus of state”)

Building complex WUK:

  • property of the municipality
  • there is still no lease agreement with the municipality. WUK is still a squatted space and has a type of ”precarium to stay“.
  • space in the building complex costs nothing to users and members.
  • old structure, infrastructure, and architecture of the WUK: the 150-year-old buildings are difficult and expensive to renovate (budgets for renovation are not available)
  • monument protection legislation complicates necessary architectural interventions and adaptions to modernize and renew the complex (such as installing lifts and technical appliances)

Advocacy / activism: A few groups and initiatives working in the field of advocacy / activism have their home base at WUK. Examples:

  • Founded in 1985 by Iranian refugees under the name Support Committee and located in WUK ever since, Asyl in Not (Asylum In Need) is one of the most important counseling centers for asylum seekers in Austria.
  • BWC: A project for the self-empowerment of black women, children, and youth living in Austria as well as for all other people with an interest in this target group. BWC supports initiatives and activities that aim for a real emancipated co-existence independently of origin, appearance, sexual orientation, lifestyle, gender, language, etc.
  • VIRUS is an environmental organisation based in WUK, which also addresses broader political issues and sometimes makes interventions. Its activities range from behind-the-scenes investigative work to actions and tenacious forms of resistance.

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