Progrss: Shared Studios Connects Detroit With Communities Worldwide

People in Detroit are now connected with communities in 18 cities around the world, six of which are in the U.S. The American city is the latest addition to multidisciplinary art, design and technology collective Shared Studios’ Portals’ project. The project, titled “Internet you can walk through,” deployed an 8-foot (2.5 meter) high, 20-foot (6 meter) long golden container in Detroit’s Capitol Park with a portal inside, which acts as a window to the rest of the portals deployed in cities around the world. “The idea is that conversations are unifiers,” says Ber-Henda Williams, the curator for the Detroit site. “The idea [is] that a random stranger can strike up a conversation with anyone and see a lot of similarities, and just bring humanity a little closer.” The Detroit portal has been up since June 9 and will be open to the public until June 30.

The portals are equipped with immersive audiovisual technology and are spread in public spaces across European, Asian, and Middle Eastern cities, including Amman, Berlin, Brussels, Gaza, Kabul, Mumbai, and Mexico City, to name a few; the only African city connected to a portal is Kigali in Rwanda. When someone enters a portal, the idea is to make them feel as if they’re sharing the same space, air and rapport with the other person in an identical portal somewhere else in the world. Each portal has a Portal Curator who works with other curators around the world to run the space, providing language interpretation and organizing events.

“We are able to cover our costs through our partner institutions, which include cities, universities, museums, companies and others. Portals are free and open to the public for at least 20 hours per week,” Shared Studios explains on its website. “On off hours, we rent the Portal for special events to cover costs. We also rent the Portal as a whole to institutions.” Shared Studios has developed its own software and hardware combination to create the portals’ effect, and link the network together.

To book a portal time, all Detroiters have to it is click on this link. The Detroit Portals installation is supported by a partnership between the Quicken Loans Family of Companies, and the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation, a non-profit community-based organization.

Since they launched in December 2014, portals have connected more than 30,000 people across 20 countries in face-to-face dialogues, engaging them in conversations about everything from family and relationships to debates about the refugee crisis and criminal justice. Community partners have built permanent portals in diverse locations around the globe, including Syrian refugee camps, American inner-cities, Afghan universities, and Mexican public parks. Notable guests that have booked portal times and engaged with communities overseas include former U.S. President Barack Obama, former Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“It seem[s] like you’re standing right in front of me. It’s an amazing technology…[and] the good thing is when I sneeze, you have no danger of catching anything. It’s one of the great advantages of…[the] Portal,” Obama said of his experience.

“We want [the portals] to be a permanent infrastructural reality of the new century. We want portals to be new global community, where people can meet each other, talk, learn, debate, collaborate, and play,” the organizers describe their goals and ambitions on their website.