Portugal – the new artists’ paradise?

For the past couple of years I’ve been hearing rumours of art students who are graduating from their courses and rather than setting up in London or Berlin, they are heading to Lisbon. More recently artists from my own peer group have started moving there too. This September, I was invited to spend a fortnight across the river from the city at PADA, a new residency scheme and studio group, based in Barreiro. It was a great way to explore the city and learn more about its cultural revolution. In addition, PADA offers the opportunity to take advantage of their large studios and excellent facilities; you can visit abandoned places, and create new work in a unique environment. I spoke to artist Tim Ralston one of the founders of PADA, to find out more about their enterprise and the opportunities they’ve found in Portugal.

Please could you give us a brief introduction to PADA and the facilities available?

PADA is an artist run studio, founded by Diana Cerezino and myself. We have 6 short-term studios for international artists that include accommodation off site, as well as 6 long-term studios for artists already living in Lisbon. We also have a dedicated gallery space that is linked to the residency program and workshops for fabrication.

What was the reason you set up the studios in Barreiro as opposed to Lisbon?

Barreiro is only a 15-minute ferry ride from the centre of Lisbon, but in that time the landscape changes a lot. You leave the bustling metropolitan city and arrive in a quiet town that is more representative of Portugal as a whole. Barreiro has a long history of Industry and during the dictatorship of Salazar, Alfredo Da Silva transformed Barreiro into the biggest Industrial Port on the Iberian peninsula. Since the end of the regime it has slowly fallen into decline and a lot of the old factories and warehouses are vacant and in disrepair. Situating ourselves here we felt we achieved a great balance for artists – close enough to Lisbon to pop over for openings and events but somewhere that we can provide big inspiring studios in a calm and focused environment.

You’ve been working closely with Baia do Tejo – who are they and how has the partnership helped PADA?

Baia do Tejo are the company that manages the Industrial Park. We have been working with them since the beginning of 2018, and are now in partnership. They manage a vast number of warehouses and huge sections of land along the South Bay. In Barreiro, they have been particularly open to creative ventures and along with other artists and associations we are helping to regenerate and reimagine some of the vacant premises. Their support throughout has been invaluable.

You offer tours of the local area, what is there to see?

The most popular part of the tour is the ruins of the old factories, crumbling brutalist architecture, surrounded by bizarre areas where the land has been decontaminated since the chemical factories were demolished. This process left huge scars on the land that are only comparable to that of a volcanic crater. Vivid colours of oxidisied minerals laid out like a palette across acres of ground. The park also houses 3 museums, that archive the history of Alfredo da Silva and CUF (Companhia Uniao Fabril). We are working with the historians to allow artists access to these archives to bring a new audience to the fascinating history.

Do you think you could have set up a similar enterprise in the UK?

I don’t think so. Even if we ignore the question of money, this location is unique and provides so much. I don’t know of anywhere like it in the UK. Quality of life here is also so much better, living is really cheap and it allows artists to spend more time in the studio rather than making ends meet.

You offer residencies for 1-3 months, what do you think will be the benefits for artists coming to PADA?

We hope that coming to PADA will allow artists the time and space to create exciting and ambitious work with inspiration from the surroundings as well as the facilities to fabricate. In the south area of the park their are lots of independent industrial fabricators specialising in metal work, mould making, printing and industrial paint that we have been working with, we are also slowly setting up fabrication facilities of our own to compliment these.

How long did it take to set up the studios?

We have been working on this since the end of 2017, but only took on the property in August of this year. The last few months have been extremely hard work to get the space ready for the inauguration. we had a lot of help from family and friends as well as the Baia do Tejo team.

The gallery will also operate an exhibition programme, what do you have lined up and is it available for hire?

The gallery will be linked to the residency program in the most part but we will also be accepting proposals to feed in to the exhibition programme. We are currently working on the programme for next year and have some space in the schedule available.

You are both artists, how do you think PADA will impact on your art practice?

We expected that in the first year of the project it would probably be difficult to maintain our regular practice. We both managed to make new work for the opening exhibition but other than that our new studios have remained rather inactive. Personally, I have a solo show at the StoneSpace in London in December ‘Tondo Rotondo’ that I will be making a new site specific painting for, and Diana is starting on plans for a show here next year.


Words by Fiona Grady


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