Joanna Szulborska — Łukaszewicz

Kraków supports artists

Reading time: approx. 18 minutes

Every day, Kraków’s Main Market Square is filled with tourists and locals, artists, poets, designers, musicians, mimes, dancers, singers, jazzmen, directors, stage designers, choreographers, painters, sculptors, photographers, animators, architects, fashion designers… And that’s just a short list of creative professions. What brings them together? The creative process. They need time, inspiration, energy and funds in order to be able to work. As well as sponsors and patrons, they also need to feel appreciated and supported by scholarships, grants, awards and creative residencies, and they need access to space to work, studios and workshops.

Kraków loves rewarding artists! The tradition dates back to at least the 14th century, when Mikołaj Jaskier was awarded for codifying city laws with 24 ells of damask, a lifelong lease on a cottage with a garden at Św. Anny Street and a small share in the city’s income. While local councillors aren’t quite so generous these days, Kraków always appreciates artists. Today support comes largely as funds, and it is seen as an important investment in culture forming an element of municipal strategy, as well as a process of honouring artists, providing them with material support, bringing a symbolic dimension to art and shaping trends.

Supporting talent is one of the challenges of the Cultural Development in Kraków Until 2030 Programme. Some of the competitions are held by the city authorities, while many others have been launched and are run by cultural institutions and non-governmental organisations.

Kraków for poets and authors

Today’s literary awards can be seen through the prism of a strategy stemming from Kraków being awarded the status of UNESCO City of Literature in 2013. However, it’s worth remembering that the first literary competition in the city was founded in 1930, with the prize being awarded to Antoni Waśkowski. His “Poetries” were republished in 2019 as part of the celebrations of a centenary of Poland’s independence. In 1937, the award went to Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska (daughter of the painter Wojciech Kossak).


As part of the UNESCO City of Literature programme, Kraków has an extensive system providing support to authors and publishers, including awards, creative grants and artistic residencies. City authorities fund many literary awards promoting a range of genres and aimed at established authors and up-and-coming writers alike, including the Conrad Award (prose), Anna Świrszczyńska Poetry Competition, Ferdynand Wspaniały and Żółta Ciżemka prizes (children’s and YA literature) and several awards for literary critics and translators. Established authors and poets are also awarded as part of the annual competition for the Prize of the City of Kraków in the art and culture category. Together with the Marshal of the Małopolska Region, the city also funds the Kazimierz Wyka Award for major contributions to essay writing and literary and art critique. The Stanisław Vincenz Prize of the City Council has a rather broader scope: its patron was an author, philosopher and scholar of the Eastern Borderlands region of Poland, and the award reflects achievements in popularising the culture of Central and Eastern Europe.

Kraków for poets and authors

One of the most recent awards is the UNESCO City of Literature Prize, founded in 2020 to support local artists and bolster literary diversity in Kraków. It is an investment in preserving the industry and all jobs involved with writing and publishing. During the first competition, 41 authors submitted by 26 publishers received financial support for their latest projects.


Other literary awards include the Wisława Szymborska Award presented by the Wisława Szymborska Foundation, and the Transatlantyk focusing on the art of translation and awarded by the Polish Book Institute to ambassadors of Polish culture for lifetime achievement. The Jan Długosz Award, granted every year during the International Book Fair in Krakow, celebrates popular and technical academic books focusing on the humanities. Published in the past twelve months by a Polish author, the awarded works are described as making a significant contribution to the development of academia and culture. The latest publications about Kraków compete in the competition for Cracovian Book of the Month organised by the Kraków Library. Original works by living Polish authors, in genres including literature, academia, visual arts, music, theatre and cinema, promoting tolerance and dialogue as the foundations of a functioning society and the primacy of freedom over ideology, are awarded the Jerzy Turowicz Award.

Finding the best

Founded during the interwar period, the Prizes of the City of Kraków were originally only awarded for literature; after the war the scope was expanded to include visual arts, music, architecture, academia, arts & crafts, conservation, theatre, artistic photography, science and technology. Since 1994, the prizes have been awarded in three categories: outstanding achievement in art and culture (literature, theatre, music, visual arts and cinema, promotion of culture in Kraków, and promotion of Cracovian art and culture in Poland and abroad), science and technology, and sport. Additionally, graduates from Kraków’s universities receive distinctions for best diplomas. Prize winners in the art and culture category include authors and poets Jan Józef Szczepański, Adam Zagajewski, Julian Kornhauser and Ewa Lipska, visual artists Janina Kraupe-Świderska, Jerzy Nowosielski and Jerzy Panek, the composer Krzysztof Penderecki and theatre artists Jerzy Trela and Krystian Lupa.

raków lives and breathes art, and artists shape the city’s landscape and atmosphere. There can never be too many honours! The Honoris Gratia medal introduced in 2005 and presented on a ribbon in the city colours, and the Cracoviae Merenti medal founded by the City of Kraków in 1992, are awarded to individuals or organisations who make significant contributions to the city. Previous winners include eminent artist such as Krzysztof Penderecki, Andrzej Wajda and Jerzy Nowosielski. In 2019, a total of 58 grant programmes, awards and creative residencies were prepared by the City of Kraków and awarded to over 200 artists.

All the city’s a stage

Theatre has long been Kraków’s pride and joy. Can you imagine our city without the beautiful Juliusz Słowacki Theatre, the Narodowy Stary Theatre or the Bagatela Theatre? Would Nowa Huta be the district it is were it not for the Ludowy or Łaźnia Nowa theatres? Kraków is currently home to at least 66 theatres, just 11 of which are state- or city-run. The remaining ones are informal groups, foundations, associations, private companies and other entities operating at educational establishments and universities. In 2019, they staged over 100 premieres, 52 of which were at public theatres.

Theatre plays a leading role in Kraków’s cultural politics, and in 2011, the city founded a competition aiming to stimulate the development of the genre.

Unlike the Divine Comedian and other prizes awarded by an international jury as part of Łaźnia Nowa’s Divine Comedy Festival, the Stanisław Wyspiański Theatre Prize focuses on events specifically created and presented in Kraków. The prize can be awarded to individual artists (such as actors, directors and stage designers) or teams. The award’s patron Stanisław Wyspiański was a highly versatile artist: author and poet, dramatist, painter, draughtsman, printmaker, architect, interior designer, stage designer, and producer and reformer of theatre.

Stimulating talent

An important element of Kraków’s current cultural policies aims to discover and support talent through creative grants, awarded by the Mayor of the City of Kraków since 1994. Until 2017, the grants were only available to individuals under 30 years old. Today the main criterion for submissions is the concept of the project the artist (of any age) wishes to develop as part of the grant. Between 1994 and 2019, grants were awarded to almost 450 individuals representing a range of fields of art and culture, from visual arts (painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, design, fashion) to theatre, music, cinema and multidisciplinary projects reaching for state-of-the-art technologies. Grants are also awarded for activities promoting culture, protecting Kraków’s non-material heritage, renovating the city’s historic buildings and monuments, and street art.

Applications are open to artists working in the digital space and individuals working in cultural management.

Another category is grants awarded as part of the Resistant Culture programme supporting artists during the pandemic. In 2020, 148 grants were awarded to artists, promoters of culture and conservators.

Hosting guests

Creative residencies are an increasingly popular way of supporting artists, in particular those working in visual arts and literature. During the 1990s, Kraków hosted Michael Zeller from Nuremberg. The German author was due to spend a few months in Kraków to write about Veit Stoss, also from Nuremberg; the great artist arrived in the city in 1477, also as part of a creative residency, to design and build the main altar at the Basilica of St. Mary. Zeller was so captivated by Kraków that he wrote the novel “Café Europa” (published in German in 1994 and in Polish in 1999) dedicated to Kraków and awarded a grant as part of the Bosch Foundation’s international competition (1999). The author was delighted to spend another year at Kraków’s Nuremberg House, and went on to write several more books. More systematic support for writers was introduced upon Kraków joining the International Cities of Refuge Network in 2011. The organisation’s residencies serve as a form of asylum for authors and human rights activist who are unable to live and work freely in their own countries for fear of persecution.

Hosting guests

Kraków has so far hosted authors including Maria Amelie (Madina Salamova) from North Ossetia, the Turkish writer and journalist Aslı Erdoğan, the Syrian poet and art critic Kholoud Charaf and Lyavon Barshchewski – the Belarusian author, philologist and translator of works by Stanisław Wyspiański, Bruno Schulz, Czesław Miłosz and Sławomir Mrożek. During his stay in Kraków in 2014, he translated Stanisław Przybyszewski’s play “Snow”.


Currently, Kraków hosts creative residencies in a range of formats: as asylum for authors and human rights activists, as placements for young writers from other cities as part of the UNESCO City of Literature network, as one-off residencies funded by non-governmental institutions, and as programme activities by the city’s cultural institutions. The Residential Programme of the UNESCO City of Literature was launched in 2017 and is implemented by KBF and the Villa Decius Institute for Culture with the aim of helping authors from all over the globe to work in Kraków. Grant-holders play an active role in the city’s literary life, showcase their work, engage in dialogue with local authors and build intercultural relationships.

Art thrives on praise

Kraków is a city of artists, sculptors, printmakers, performers, stage designers, photographers and designers specialising in fashion and craft. Their works are displayed at numerous art galleries, permanent and temporary exhibitions and presented at competitions. The most important of the latter is the International Print Triennial. Running since 1966, the festival has been restructured in 2018. It showcases many aspects of printmaking, including classic printmaking techniques alongside state-of-the-art digital technologies, intermedia, multimedia and transmedia projects and installations. Prizes include the MTG Grand Prix, the MTG European Printmaking Award and the Prof. Witold Skulicz Award. Prof. Skulicz was himself the founder of the “Print of the Month” competition held since the late 1950s and organised by the Kraków Branch of the Association of Polish Artists and Designers. In 1997, the association founded the Witold Wojtkiewicz Prize. The first winner of this prestigious award was Janina Kraupe-Świderska – one of the most original Polish artists of the second half of the 20th century.

Art thrives on praise

The Krakow Art Salon awards prizes to freelance artists, critics and theorists of art, curators and organisers of venues, events and galleries and talented amateurs. The aim of the competition is to bring the community together, support and promote local freelancers and self-employed artists, organisations and venues supporting visual arts and operating independently of public institutions.


The International Biennale of Architecture, held since 1985, features several competitions: for urban architectural design recalling the event’s theme, for best manifesto and for multimedia works created using a camera.


The annual Cracow Fashion Week features a competition for young Polish designers, which is the culmination of the diploma competition of the Cracow School of Art and Fashion Design. Winners are revealed during the International Gala of the Cracow Fashion Awards.


A practical way of showing appreciation of visual artists is providing them with space to work in. In 2019, Kraków let out 210 studios to 289 artists.

Not just concerts and festivals

Kraków resounds with jazz, and one of the most important events of the genre is the Jazz Juniors competition. The Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition, launched in 2014, is held every other year in Kraków and Lusławice. It is aimed at young violinists, violists and cellists from all over the globe, performing jazz and improvised music. The International Jarek Śmietana Jazz Guitar Competition, founded in 2015, is a similar event for young virtuosos of any type of acoustic or electric guitar.


And let’s not forget the Film Music Festival, one of the most important events of its kind in the world. The event features an international competition for young composers vying for the Young Talent Award and the honour of performing their suite during the gala finale.

Not just concerts and festivals

It is the only competition of its kind where the winning composition by a debuting artist is performed alongside music by established composers by a full symphony orchestra in front of a huge audience. The festival also features the competition for Polish Soundtrack of the Year. In 2019, the winner was Bartosz Chajdecki, author of the unsettling music for the TV series “Raven”.


The Wojciech Kilar Award, founded in 2014, is a joint initiative of the mayors of Kraków and Katowice and is awarded to exceptional film music composers for lifetime achievement. The prestigious award bolsters the winner’s position in the interdisciplinary world of cinema and reinforces Kraków and Katowice’s standing in the film and music industry. Past winners of the Kilar Award include Elliot Goldenthal, Howard Shore, Alexandre Desplat, Michael Nyman and Craig Armstrong.

Through the camera lens

Cinema and film awards have a rich tradition in Kraków. The Krakow Film Festival, running since 1961, focuses on documentaries, animations and short features and is regarded as one of the most important events of its kind in Europe. Currently, the festival features four competitions for documentaries, short films, Polish films and DocFilmMusic (added in 2013). Its prestigious awards include the Golden and Silver Horns, Golden and Silver Lajkonik, Golden Hejnał and the Dragon of Dragons – an individual prize awarded since 1998 for lifetime achievement in documentaries and short films. Past winners include Jan Lenica, Werner Herzog, Marcel Łoziński and Jerzy Kucia.


Another important competition forms part of the Etiuda&Anima festival, launched in 1994. Winners of the ETIUDA competition receive Golden, Silver and Bronze Dinosaurs, while the ANIMA.PL national competition presents Golden, Silver and Bronze Żmij for auteur films, children’s films and professional debut. Golden, Silver and Bronze Jabberwockies are awarded in the ANIMA Competition.


Launched in 2008, the International Festival of Independent Cinema Mastercard Off Camera is one of the most important events of its kind in Central and Eastern Europe, awarding major cash prizes. The Main Competition “Making Way” presents ten debut or follow-up productions by filmmakers from all over the globe vying for the Krakow Film Award. Director of the winning film can apply for co-finance from the Polish Film Institute for their next production, as long as at least some of the shooting takes place in Poland. The cash prize is one of the highest in the world. An important element of the programme is the Polish Feature Film Competition, with the best productions vying for the Kulczyk Foundation Award; the prize is split between director and producer. Off Camera also includes a competition for amateur filmmakers and another for young scriptwriters.


Authors of scripts for films set in Małopolska compete for prizes in the Three Crowns Competition – Małopolska Film Award. Launched in 2008, the competition is organised by the Małopolska Region, the Polish Film Institute and KBF. Three prizes are awarded for features and one for a documentary script.

Additionally, the Krakow Regional Film Fund, financed by the Kraków Municipality and the Małopolska Region, holds an annual Film Production Support Competition for films linked with Kraków and Małopolska. Awarded since 2009, the fund financed over 30 features, documentaries and animations until the year 2020.

Supporting the supporters

Kraków is an active participant in media initiatives honouring artists. Since 2018, the city has been a patron of the “Polityka” Passport awards in the Literature category. Winners include Marcin Wicha and Dominika Słowik. Together with Onet, since 2019 Kraków has been co-organising the O!Lśnienia competition. The online poll awards the most important artistic events of the past year in cinema, literature, visual arts, popular music, classical music and jazz, theatre and TV drama. Entries are open to Polish artists whose works were produced or published in Poland or creators from abroad who have achieved international success by working with Polish artists.


The Medal of St. George, awarded since 1993 for achievements in promoting sensitivity to cruelty and injustice and for persistently spreading good in social life, is presented in Kraków by the “Tygodnik Powszechny” weekly. Past winners include Agnieszka Holland, Leszek Kołakowski, Norman Davies and Václav Havel.

Culture and artists have long prospered thanks to the generosity of patrons. Private collectors and donors continue to support and enhance institutions across Poland.

The priceless collection of the National Museum in Krakow was originally amassed by the Czartoryski family. The original funds to build a municipal theatre in Kraków (present-day Juliusz Słowacki Theatre) were donated by the great actress Helena Modrzejewska from her earnings for performances on Kraków’s stages.

Kraków remembers all those who echo Gaius Cilnius Maecenas (70 BC – 8 BC) – the great Roman patron of the arts – in their support for culture, the arts and artists. Aiming to stimulate cooperation between culture and business, Kraków awards the Stańczyk statuettes to distinguished patrons of culture. A more recent tradition is the Dźwigacze Kultury distinction awarded by KBF to its partners in appreciation of supporting Cracovian culture.

Inspiration to create

We can discuss awards from a range of perspectives: they signify excellence and give the artwork and its author a mark of quality, they can help shape trends and popularities, they promote healthy competition, they are an element of marketing strategies and they enhance the concept of culture and artists as important capital. In Kraków the structure of awarding artists has been evolving for many years, driven by managers of culture who have been working tirelessly to convince local politicians to invest in culture. It is propelled by people who understand that art is “an eternal and universal means of communication (…) multidimensional, paradoxical, profound, reaching for many registers.” [1] The wealth of these registers stimulates thought, which in turn serves as creative inspiration. Despite stereotypes and established thought patterns, art doesn’t meet our needs – it creates and shapes them.

[1] Olga Tokarczuk, [in:] Tadeusz Nyczek, Po co jest sztuka? Rozmowy z pisarzami, part 1, Kraków 2012, p. 153.

Joanna Szulborska — Łukaszewicz

Doctor of the humanities specialising in cultural management, scholar of the theatre, publicist. During her time in local government administration she worked on numerous cultural and artistic programmes and projects in Kraków, including the Stanisław Wyspiański Theatre Award and Poetry Night. Coordinator of the Cultural Development in Kraków 2030 programme.

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