A Concordia student feels incredibly lucky to have spent weeks creating art in Austria thanks to a chain of events that began with Nazi looting in WWII.

Breanna Shanahan is the first Montreal student to spend time as the artist-in-residence in Salzburg's Museum of Modern Art.

When she learned earlier this year that she was the inaugural recipient of the Jorisch Family Artist Residency, she was stunned.

"I laid on the floor right there. I was on the floor just staring at the ceiling thinking 'oh my god I'm going to be in Austria.' It was so insane that I couldn't move," said Shanahan.

The funding for the prize comes from two paintings that were stolen from the Jorisch family during the Nazi regime.

In 1938 Georg Jorisch and his father fled Austria when the Nazis annexed the country, while his mother and grandmother stayed in Vienna and were eventually deported to Poland -- and killed.

The Associate Dean of Concordia's Faculty of Fine Arts said that before being captured Jorisch's grandmother Amalie Redlich placed several works of art in storage, including two paintings by Gustav Klimt, Church in Cassone and Litzlberg on the Attersee.

"When they fled their home they had to leave everything behind and some of their very famous paintings were then looted by the Nazis and disappeared for almost 70 years," said Joanna Berzowska.

The Gestapo confiscated the paintings, and Litzlberg on the Attersee became part of a museum's collection in 1944.

Jorisch then moved to Montreal and after laws changed in the 1990s Jorisch was able to track down the artwork, but establishing his family's claim took nearly 20 years.

The artwork sold at auctions in 2010 and 2011 for $95 million, and Jorisch split the multi-million-dollar settlement with those who had been in possession of the stolen Klimts, including the Museum of Modern Art in Salzburg.

As part of the restitution, the Museum transformed a water tower into a residence for artists and teaching, and named it after Jorisch's grandmother, Amalie Redlich.

With the town rebuilt, the Jorisch family then donated money to Concordia University so students could experience life as as Jorisch did, as a member of two cultures.

"To produce work that has relevance of this idea or displacement of shared history of belonging to two different places examining one's path," said Berzowska.

It's a feeling that Shanahan understands, because she recently learned that she has Austrian roots.

"My grandmother, she was born in Alberta but her family was from Austria," said Shanahan.

That revelation inspired her work in Salzburg, juxtaposing images from Canada and Austria.

"The first one that I made was actually a reflection of the place that I lived in Austria, and this clock tower, and they're reflected with this program that makes it look kind of watery," said Shanahan.

Winning the prize has also confirmed to Shahanan--if she had any doubts--that she has made the right career decision.

"I'm choosing a career of passion. It's not the easy choice. There are tonnes of people who don't believe in it or things that are obstacles for it, but I think that I'm going to just keep persevering," Shanahan said.