Getting started

What are Portals?

Portals are interconnected, immersive audiovisual environments built in repurposed shipping containers, inflatables, and custom structures. When you enter one, you are met by someone in a distant Portal and can speak to them as if in the same room.

Shared_Studios maintains a network of 40 Portals around the world and connects these spaces to one another for dialogues, performances, and collaborative activities. These connections build familiarity, empathy, and understanding between communities who would otherwise never meet.

How do Portals work?

Portals are placed in highly diverse environments, including universities; refugee sites; cultural centers; public parks; tech hubs; conferences; and events.

Every Portal connects with every other so that communities everywhere can learn, collaborate, and play.

What is the goal of Portals?

The online spaces that dominate our lives confine us in homogenous ideological communities – commonly referred to as “bubbles”. When we do interact with individuals outside of our bubbles, the infrastructure of social media prohibits genuine exchange.

This trend seeks to deny us access to the richness of human diversity. The experience of coming in contact with lives that differ from our own is an experience that makes life better. That richness is denied to all of us so long as the divides between our communities continue to widen.

Portals counteract these phenomena by connecting people who would never otherwise meet. They bring together people separated by distance and difference for converations, collaborations, and play.

Most of all, Portals ensure that these encounters are authentic, productive, and human. By bringing human beings face-to-face and de-anonymizing their interactions in a space designed for meaningful interaction, Portals help people to see the full complexity of human experience.

What is a Portal Curator, and what do they do?

Curators connect the Portal to the world and to their local community. They staff the Portal and are present for all connections. They translate, support, and facilitate encounters to make sure all participants are comfortable and engaged.

How are Portals distinct?

Portals differs from traditional video conferencing in two ways:

  1. Technology: Where traditional video conferencing is restricted to a computer screen, making every participant a floating head, Portals are immersive, full-body depictions that allow participants to make eye-contact and feel as those they are sharing the same physical space. That technological leap is vital to our mission of bringing people together. To make people connect in genuine, authentic ways, they must be able to acknowledge each other not as a disembodied voices, but as an embodied, life-size human beings.

  2. Human curation: Portals set aside physical space to engage with people different from ourselves. Every encounter is facilitated by a real human being - a curator who translates, prompts, and guides the conversation, and every interaction is themed or planned to suit the participants. Curators therefore serve as community organizers. They ensure that a diverse range of participants visit the Portal, and create connections that are of the greatest benefit to their community. If a community member in Dubai hopes to learn about dance in Kigali, the Dubai curator will work with the Kigali curator to invite Rwandan dancers to that connection. The result of this global network of community organizers is a physical infrastructure that provides global access to local knowledge.

What is the broader vision of Portals?

We are building a freely-accessible global public resource. Our aim is to link communities around the world through a network of thousands of Portals. This network of immersive spaces will become a public square for the 21st century, where people everywhere can share their stories, collaborate, and learn from one another.

How many Portals are there and where are they?

Check out our sites section for the latest.

How can I bring a Portal to my university?

Get in touch to start a conversation.


Preparing for the Portal

How many people can fit in a Portal?

An Inflatable_Portal fits four to six adults. A Portal_Container fits eight adults.

How do I integrate the Portal into my curriculum?

Portal encounters can be designed to easily align with teaching objectives. When a Portal comes to your university, the Shared_Studios team will work with you to match your students to communities and partners that meet their needs.

Students can be connected with experts, performers, and local participants handpicked by our curatorial team.

What are some examples of how faculty have used Portals before?

Spanish language teachers use the Portal to give their students dynamic real-world conversation practice with native speakers in Mexico City. Global relations professors use the Portal to give their students contact with real people from the countries they study, from Rwanda to Iraq. Literature students connect from the USA to Afghanistan to explore Arabic antecedents to Shakespeare.

Who will I be connecting to?

Our team will work with you to schedule connections that suit the needs of your students. Before your connection, you’ll know about the site you’re connecting to as well as who you can expect to see at the other end. Your Portal Curator will invite participants to the Portal based on your needs.

How do I prepare my students for their Portal connection?

It’s always useful to cover the basics, like location and local languages.

For sites that have experienced or are experiencing conflict, it can be important to give background context so that they can engage with sensitivity. Otherwise, the amount of preparation is up to you.

How do I book time in the Portal? Can I choose where I connect to?

Your school’s Portal_Curator will plan Portal connections alongside the Shared_Studios curatorial team. Speak to your Portal_Curator to make a request. When a connection has been scheduled, it will appear on a calendar accessible by the Portal_Curator. It’s up to the Portal_Curator to request sites, themes, and class content from the curatorial team.


Using the Portal

Will I need to translate?

Every Portal_Curator speaks English as well as their local language. If your students do not speak English or the the local language of either site, you may need to translate into English on their behalf. Otherwise, you are free to adopt the language that suits the connect, whether that language is English, Swedish, or Farsi.

What if something goes wrong?

Our Portal_Curators are trained to make the experience in the Portal as smooth as possible. They’ll help manage any difficulties mid-connection. Otherwise, our central team is always on hand to provide support.

How do I avoid sensitive topics?

Portal_Curators are always on hand and on site to help guide the conversation. Because Portal participants are meeting people from new cultures and backgrounds, these conversations can be challenging. Curators are trained to ensure the conversation is always as healthy and productive as possible.

Do I have to learn to operate the Portal?

We recommend that at least one or two teachers at your school take the role of “Portal_Curator”. These teachers will operate the Portal and liaise with Shared_Studios.

But don’t worry – operating the Portal is simple, and we’ll train you to make connections with sites all over the planet.