Situated in the vibrant cultural landscape of Portugal, AiR 351 ( is an international independent non-profit organisation, dedicated to fostering artistic innovation. Since its establishment in 2017, this dynamic studio-based artist residency program has been a catalyst for cross-cultural dialogue and collaboration within the visual arts realm, transcending geographical boundaries and cultivating a global artistic community.

Nestled in the carefully restored school building Escola Monumento D. Luiz I in Cascais, Portugal, AiR 351’s headquarters epitomise a fusion of historical charm and contemporary creativity. The facility has six individual artist studios with autonomous access, complemented by communal spaces such as a shared kitchen, a curated library, and a former schoolyard, serving as focal points for both spontaneous interactions and planned engagements.

Beyond its physical footprint, AiR 351 is driven by a mission to amplify the critical mass of artistic expression, propelling forward ambitious projects and fostering international exchanges. To date, the program has welcomed over 50 international artists and curators from a diverse array of more than 25 countries.

The organisation’s proactive stance extends to creating impactful opportunities for artists and curators through strategic alliances with partners and dedicated efforts to secure public funding. AiR 351 operates under the guidance of an international Strategic Advisory Board, representing a spectrum of cultural backgrounds, and benefits from the discernment of an external International Selection Committee.

At the core of AiR 351’s initiatives lies a commitment to professional development, intricately connected to the pulse of the local art scene while extending its reach across an international network. 

.ART has talked to Luisa Especial, co-founder and Artistic Director of AiR 351.

Where does the name of the artist residency program come from?

We tried to be a bit self-explanatory in a sense that if you have a cultural centre or museum, it’s sort of a label that you immediately know what it is referring to. And in this case, we are a residency program. There are lots of residency programs across the globe. Our name is a way of saying that this is a residency program, and it is located in Portugal.Currently we are expanding into other cities and municipalities apart from the residency in Cascais. We will have a point B, and eventually a point C. 

I guess in this case .ART in your online address ( signifies right away the focus. 

Yes, it is inserting us in the artistic community. It was a way of quickly identifying ourselves, positioning ourselves right away. 

The residency program is located in the former school building. Was it a regular school for kids? What was the facility like?

The building was built to be a school. The construction began around 1903 in the very end of the monarchy. The building looks quite grand, but it’s actually quite domestic. It was just two classrooms for 50 kids on each side of the building. And the main part of the building was used as a living headquarters of teachers. Municipality gave us several options, where we could be located. For us, being back then a project that was just starting, it had the right scale due to the fact that very quickly we could have five or six artists at the same time. It has a homey feeling. When a resident arrives, he or she feels immediately at home. Once being a place where the kids used to study and play and now being used by the artists and the team “to play”, to create, have meetings outside, etc. It’s really a privilege to have this kind of space.

Within the program, which artists do you invite to take part in the open calls? 

We mainly invite visual artists, working with photography, painting, drawing,  performance. Up until now, we didn’t have anyone working in the field of literature, theatre or dance. Also we are inviting researchers and curators. There is one permanent call, which is ongoing. Anyone can apply. And they’re specific open calls that have different criteria, according to which each partner that’s supporting the grant is established. So there are these two different modalities. One, when a resident should arrive with support coming from his home country. And the other one –  we’re also actively promoting grants via the help of our partners. 

When artists are applying for the residency, do they have to develop a preliminary concept of what they will be working on? Are they supposed to deliver the final project in the end?

It’s not mandatory to have a pre-existing project. Sometimes they can send us the concept and it can be useful for us to understand how the idea will be developed. In most cases, a resident arrives, and completely changes what he wants to do and that’s great. We do not impose a result in the end. Sometimes we’re working with artists who have a five-year long project. So it doesn’t make any sense to push them. If they wish to do so, we try to identify where the project can be shown because we don’t have an exhibition space here. 

Which facilities do you have at the studios? 

Our studios are very basic. It’s just spaces, equipped with very basic things, according to what the artist is working on. In case someone is working with, for example, ceramics, we activate the contact we have with a ceramic school and establish this connection. Here it’s mainly a space where we have meetings with residents and where they are developing their work. We also invite people to come – collectors, gallerists, curators, critiques, other artists, etc. It is a meeting point as well. 

I had a feeling that AiR351 is very much community-based and process-based. The dialogue is rather important there, especially, as you mentioned, between the artists themselves.  

Yes, we try to create an open new context for developing new works.