Chicago Tribune: A portal in Daley Plaza can take you to Rwanda during Chicago Ideas Week

Ideas aren't just contained to Chicago at this year's Chicago Ideas Week festival: A new feature will allow locals to connect with people around the globe.

From Daley Plaza, Chicagoans will be able to chat and share performances with people in other parts of the world, via a tricked-out shipping container.

It's called Portals, a global art installation that's placed identical gold containers, outfitted with live-streaming technology, in cities around the world.

The goal is to make it feel like participants across the world are in the same room. The partner portals are in Kigali, Rwanda; Erbil, Iraq; Herat, Afghanistan; Yangon, Myanmar; El Progreso, Honduras; Gaza City; Mexico City; New York City; and Milwaukee.

"This is an amazing way to have one-on-one interaction with a complete stranger; share interests and things about yourselves, and see if you have common ground so that maybe we can make some change in the world," said Sona Jones, director of marketing and media at Chicago Ideas Week.

Visitors can also watch curated portal experiences focusing on particular interests or activities. For example, a high school world history class will connect with teenagers in Gaza City Monday; on Wednesday, Chicago-based hip-hop artist Ric Wilson will perform for a crowd in Mexico City before artists there perform; and musicians Eddie Taylor Jr. and Harmonica Hinds will perform a blues concert for an audience in Kigali, Rwanda Saturday.

"It's almost like a cultural exchange program," Jones said.

Whatever's happening inside the shipping containers will be broadcast live on a screen outside the portal for those just wanting to take a look.

Washington, D.C.-based Shared Studios created the installation, which is sponsored by Comcast-NBCUniversal. Shared Studios also has an ongoing Portals installation at the Harold Washington Library Center, but focused on sharing views of criminal justice with participants in Milwaukee.

Ideas Week's Portals program runs Monday through Sunday. Sign-ups for 15-minute slots in the container are available at Attendees can bring up to two people along.

Cheryl V. Jackson is a freelance writer.
Twitter @cherylvjackson