2016 Summer Recap: Face-to-face with President Obama, a UN Portal, and more

We’ve had a momentous summer! Because of all of you, we have built a Portals network across 20 countries, connected more than 20,000 people in intimate dialogues, and thousands more in artist collaborations, rap battles, opera ballades, slumber parties, brainstormings, and quiet meditations across distance. That distance takes us from Afghanistan to Mexico and Rwanda to Iraq.

We also got to collectively welcome a slew of celebrity guests, which is always exciting. In fact, we launched our new Portal Screens (think Portal without the container) with President Obama! Here's a rundown:

President Obama Engages Entrepreneurs Through New Portal Screens

Secretary of State John Kerry and Google co-founder Sergey Brin talk to entrepreneurs in Seoul, London and Herat during GES2016. Amar Bakshi from Shared_Studios and Danny Navarro from Google for Entrepreneurs are hanging out inside too.

Secretary Of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Shark Tank's aymond John talk with entrepreneurs in Mexico City at our Centraal Portal about the government's role in growing entrepreneurship during GES 2016.

President Obama spoke to entrepreneurs in London, Erbil, Seoul and Mexico. During his conversation, the President said a couple things we love:


“It’s an amazing technology...I feel like you’re standing there right in front of me...

"See, the good thing is when I sneeze, you have no danger of catching anything. It's one of the great advantages of...[the] Portal." 

"I am glad that I had a chance to talk to you almost in person. It feels like you're standing right there... I want to go up and shake your hand... this is great."

                                                                    - President Barack Obama


Many thanks to Google for Entrepreneurs for bringing Portals to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University and placing Portals at their hubs in Seoul and London, and with a partner in Mexico City. During GES2016, we had a slew of high-profile visitors in including Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and Shark Tank host Daymond John.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Inaugurates UNHQ Portal

United Nations Secretary-General at the Portal at the UN Headquarters in New York.

Choreographer Jonah Bokaer teaches peaceful and calming gestures to Syrian refuge youth in our Portal at the Makani Center in Jordan, thanks to UNICEF Jordan.

Actor Ewan McGregor speaking to the Herat Portal from the Erbil Portal.

That same week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon inaugurated our Portal at the United Nations Headquarters in NYC. Throughout the summer, our Portal at the UN has connected artists, diplomats, business leaders, and UN visitors to refugees and IDPs in Jordan and Iraq.

Actor Ewan McGregor even visited the Portal in the Harsham IDP camp in Erbil, thanks to our partnership with UNICEF, and was in disbelief when he suddenly found himself speaking to a stranger in Herat.

As Lindsay Mackenzie of UNICEF Iraq wrote on Instagram, this was a summer of creativity in Harsham Camp connected to the UN with saxophone and oud sessions, interactive opera and dialogues.

Thank you to our partners including UNMC, UNVR, UNICEF Jordan, UNICEF Iraq, and Bridges of Understanding for making this summer exhibition possible.

A selfie taking from Iraq with Congressmen Quigley and McGovern in Washington, DC.

Members of Congress Engage Syrian Refugees and Displaced Iraqis Through Portals

And last week, we had our first Portal experience in the halls of the U.S. Congress, connecting U.S. Representatives Jim McGovern and Mike Quigley with Omar, a 15-year-old Iraqi who was forced from his home by ISIS advances, Malak, an 11-year-old who wants to be a doctor, and Tarfa, a Syrian teacher who has been working in Iraq for the past three years.

Omar told us that he couldn't go to school because the site closest to him had been converted into a shelter for the thousands being displaced from Mosul. Our partners UNICEF & UNICEF Iraq are working daily to build schools but it is an uphill battle. Tarfa, the teacher, hasn’t been paid in months.  After this Portal dialogue, members of congress and the U.S. public policy team at UNICEF pledged to investigate the issue, work to identify funds, and update their information on the previously unknown issues in this particular camp.

Thank you Omar, Tarfa and Malak for sharing your stories. And thank you to our partners UNICEF USAGlobal CitizenGlobal Campaign for Education & Jesuit Refugee Service/USA for making this possible.

Police-Community Dialogues Expanding To More U.S. Sites!

With tensions high, they continued dialogues and even installed a new a Portal Screen at COA! That Portal Screen is now connecting with another Portal Screen at the American University Museum at the Katzen Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where we are proud to be part of their exhibits on political inclusion, black lives, and social justice. Portal Screens are up and connected to Milwaukee from 11-4PM EST Tuesday through Sunday until October 23. 

Thanks to the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School and the ISPS Center for the Study of Inequality at Yale University, we are expanding our Portal dialogues on police-community relations in America! Our Portal team in the Amani Neighborhood of Milwaukee, WI, led by Lewis Lee and Dennis Walton, and with support from the COA Youth & Family Center, have been programming rap battles and fatherhood dialogues in the midst of riots, which erupted in mid-August, after the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Sylville Smith by police.

Director of the American University Museum, Jack Rasmussen, speaking to a reporter in Milwaukee, WI.

New Portals

This summer we launched six new Portals:

Yangon, Myanmar
with Turning Tables

Kabul, Afghanistan
with Turquoise Mountain

Austin, Texas
with St. Edward’s University

College Park, Maryland
with the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland

Greenwich, Connecticut
with Greenwich Academy

Mexico City, Mexico
with Platoon

Over the next month, we will be launching three more:

Gaza City, Palestine
with Gaza Sky Geeks and Mercy Corps

Brooklyn, New York
with the New Lab

Berlin, Germany
with Platoon

Students at the Portal at the University of Maryland engaging students at the Hariwa University in Herat, where it is morning.

A dialogue between our Portal in Yangon and our Portal in Herat on the effects of drugs and drug trafficking.

Portal launch event in Kabul, Afghanistan at Turquoise Mountain with a live external screen.

The Heffron Family at the Portal in Austin, Texas.

Upcoming Events Featuring Portals

If you find yourself in one of these cities, please come to these special events featuring Portals:

New Lab Opening Event
Brooklyn, NY
Saturday, September 24 from 5-8PM

The New Lab is a an interdisciplinary space designed to support entrepreneurs working in emerging technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and connected devices. We are extremely excited to have a Portal smack in the center of this vibrant space.

DC Palestinian Film + Arts Festival 
Washington, DC
October 5 – 9

Visit this festival to see the work of Palestinian filmmakers and artists around the world. And, engage artists and others in Gaza now through our Portal Tent in D.C.

Chicago Ideas Week
Chicago, IL
October 17 – 23

Chicago Ideas brings together some incredible minds each year, and some dynamic exhibits, including Portals, to create new connections and open new possibilities for growth and change. Speakers this year range from Arne Duncan to Craig Venter.

Job Openings

We’re looking for talented and entrepreneurial minds to join our team!

Multidisciplinary Technologist to develop new ways of engaging, collaborating, and playing through Portal Containers, Screens, and Tents around the world. The individual would be involved in overseeing teams working on software development, raspberry pi constructions, optical engineering, and network design and management.

Director of Business Development to hone sustainable sustainable growth strategies overall, and across global partner sites. This person will also engage large organizations including city governments, museums, large business institutions, and NGOs.

Partnerships Manager to assist in identifying, building, and leading key relationships with sites and partners around the world.


Portals in Print!

Kio Stark just came out with a new book called When Strangers Meet: How People You Don't Know Can Transform You. Much to our delight, there's a section in it on Portals! Even in the Internet age, there's something extra special about the printed and bound word. Check it out!

Summer Press Highlights

UNICEF Blog: Virtual Obama Meets Young Iraqi Entrepreneur

TMJ4: High Tech Equipment Aids Crime Prevention

Aspen Public Radio: Portal at Aspen Ideas Festival

CBS58: Digital Portal Connects Milwaukee & Newark

Next City: Gold-Painted Shipping Containers Create a Global Public Space

The New Times: Connecting Rwanda to the World

Additional Summer Press

We popped up a Portal at the Aspen Ideas Festival this summer thanks to Damian Woetzel, Aspen Institute's Arts Program.

We set up a Portal at the Lincoln Park Music Festival in July.

United Nations Radio: Portal at the UN General Assembly

Hyperallergic: A Gateway into the Newark Art Scene

New Jersey Stage: Newark Portal Overview

Stanford Daily: A Portal Opens at Crothers

Precious Lives: Gunviolence – A Portal to Answers

United Nations Release: Refugee Exhibition Opens at UN

United Nations Radio: Portal at the UN General

Universal Cargo: Containers and art

Virgin.com: Portal Comes to London

VOA: Connecting UNHQ in NYC to Refugees 

AP: Experimental installations put the social in social science

ArtfixDaily: Identity Politics at American University Museum

Aspen Times: Portal at Aspen Ideas Festival

Brick City Live: 500 Fathers Connect Between Newark and Milwaukee

Greenwich Time: A Portal to Global Conversations at Greenwich Academy

NJ.com: Portal in Newark

NJTV: Portal in Newark

Stanford News: Portal at Stanford University

United Nations Release: Refugee Exhibition Opens at UN

Closing Note

It's a privilege being able to engage all of you. Portals work their magic only because people around the world are curious about one another and are eager, or at least open, to asking questions, sharing ideas, collaborating on projects, playing, and passing time together. Thank you all for bringing gold spaces to life!


Your Shared_Studios Team