NEWARK — It's the one shipping container that can travel across the world without leaving New Jersey.
The "portal," a repurposed container that was installed as a temporary exhibit in Newark's Military Park last month, is part of a global artist initiative to connect strangers around the world. The container is equipped with technology that allows users to video chat with people in similar portals that have been placed in other cities around the world.
The "Shared Studios" project, according to its director of global development Michelle Moghtader, is meant to facilitate conversations on specific topics.
The current round of portal conversations, which are being studied by artists and academics from several universities and organizations, are meant to be about criminal justice.
"We, along with the researchers, chose Newark and Milwaukee (for portal installations) as they have communities with high concentrations of police activity," Moghtader said. After they enter the portal and are connected with someone in a different city, participants are given a prompt, like 'what does criminal justice mean to you,' and are asked to talk about it for 20 minutes.
"We hope that the intimate and safe space of the portal allows people to say what they want to say in their own terms and words and build a bond with someone in a similar but distant community," Moghtader said.
Locals can make online reservations to try the portal. (Courtesy Military Park Partnership)
In addition to the U.S. cities, there are portals placed in multiple locations throughout the world, like Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Iran.
The portal, which will be in Military Park through June 30 and is free to use, comes after a string of improvements at the Newark park, which underwent a full multi-million dollar renovation in 2014. The new installation fits in with the rest of the community space, said Ben Donsky of Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, who also serves as Vice President of the Military Park Partnership, which redeveloped the space.
"We want to use this as a town square that creates serendipitous interactions between strangers in Newark," Donsky said of the park, which includes attractions ranging from Ping-Pong tables to a custom-made city history carousel.
"This takes those principals...and (allows us) the opportunity to do that on a global scale."
So far, people have been signing on to try the portal out. Visitors can either pass by the portal to walk in, or reserve a 20-minute session online. Users have given the experience positive reviews.
"I strongly encourage people to stop by the portal and share their experiences and perspectives with partners from all over the globe," said New Jersey Institute for Social Justice CEO Ryan Haygood, who recently spoke with a community organizer from Milwaukee, Wis. via the portal.
"It is time well spent."