Portals Across America

Portals Across America

Who we are

The global public art initiative, Portals, was launched in December 2014 by a group of artists in the U.S. and Iran. We had read about one another, but we hadn’t spoken directly, and as a result, our notions of each other were not founded on personal experience, but rather on narratives over which we had little control.

When we launched Portals, we invited people to enter individually for twenty-minute conversations about daily life. Our prompt was “What would make today a good day for you?” We wanted people to share their stories, their experiences, and their aspirations. We believed the resulting conversations about the mundane aspects of life between people who would not otherwise meet would prove valuable to both participants. We hoped they would offer mutual learning opportunities, and that they would satisfy a basic human curiosity about the lives of others.

Over the past two years, we have seen that impulse spread, and our network has grown. Now there are Portals all around the world – at a university in Herat, Afghanistan, a camp for refugees and internally displaced people in Iraq, and a church on the South Side of Chicago. We’ve hosted politicians, actors, teachers, students, police commissioners and tens of thousands of others, all conversing with one another about their daily lives. 

What we have seen

In witnessing thousands of global conversations, we have learned that human beings are kindest to one another when no one else is looking, and that they are most open when they are unafraid of judgment. We have seen that human beings have a longing to connect with one another in meaningful ways, all while living in a society that has become more tribal – more stove-piped – than ever before.

In our digital age, we have created new means of communicating. We tweet and retweet, “like” and share, but rarely are we able to open ourselves to unexpected connections, to impromptu collaborations, or to play. Our media consumption tends to make us isolated receivers of information and lonely creators of content. Our encounters with strangers occur for pre-ordained reasons: to get a job, to provide or receive charity, to execute a task, and so forth. And all this leaves us disconnected, atomized from our wider world, pulled deeper into our own bubbles.

What we believe

As a public art collective, we at Shared_Studios want to share a philosophy and a medium we all hold deeply valuable. Our team now includes more than twenty people from around the world, including refugees from active conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Syria. We include people who have grown up in America’s inner cities and have never left the country. We include teachers at elite prep schools in the U.S. and artists in Isfahan. And we all work together every single day to organize dialogues and events among our diverse communities. We all work together as equals to build something we believe is of unique and historic value: a global community committed to bridging cultural and physical distances each and every day. We believe in the incredible value that comes from the encounters we foster across all forms of distance. Portals are not about charity; this is a project that encourages mutually beneficial relationships. We’ve seen the excitement that arises when people in Mexico and Mumbai discover they share a common struggle, when Rwandans and Hondurans smile at one another, when Iraqis and Americans dance and sing their hearts out together.

What we will do

Over the coming months, we will launch two new initiatives to expand dialogues within the United States and with refugee communities around the world. We will create Portal Buses to travel across the United States, connecting thousands of Americans with refugee and IDP communities around the globe.  And, at a time of immense polarization within the U.S., we will connect Americans from different parts of this country to one another.

We will ask participants to respond to our original prompt: “What would make today a good day for you?” And after their Portals dialogue, participants will be invited into an online space where they can remain connected to one another.

We need your help


We need your help guiding our itinerary across America. We need your help telling us where we can go, welcoming us into your community, and offering our Portal Curator housing for a couple nights. We need your help galvanizing your community to participate in these dialogues, to enrich them and be enriched by them.


We need partners from across America, from big tech companies to foundations to local churches, mosques and city halls.


Finally, we need help expanding our Portal placements across refugee and IDP communities to engage them in this dialogue and welcome them into the Portals network. Please pitch in whatever you can to help us place Portals in these sites and hire refugee and IDP Portal Curators.

We start today.