Despite popular belief, you don’t need to buy an expensive plane ticket to take a trip around the world. In fact, you can travel to Jordan, Berlin, Brooklyn, Honduras, Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda, or Mexico City, without ever going through airport security. You don’t even need to pack a bag.
Sounds too good to be true, right? As of today, it unfortunately is for those of us in Southeast Michigan. The Detroit portal, which made these experiences possible for the past six weeks, closed its golden doors yesterday.
What is a portal?
Portals are repurposed shipping containers painted gold and converted into immersive audiovisual studios. You can find them around the world, and connect with people on the other side. Portals create conversation across borders and languages: portal “curators” facilitate discussion and translate when necessary.
The Detroit portal spent almost three weeks in Capitol Park before moving to the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood, where I stumbled upon it today. Inside, I found walls padded for good acoustics, a large screen, chairs, and a smiling Ber-Henda Williams. As the Detroit Portal curator, she has hosted a children’s dance studio, author talks, Afro-Caribbean dancers, house music DJs, women entrepreneurs, and more. She says the portal presents a unique opportunity to exchange information, dialogue, and camaraderie.
I asked Ber-Henda to describe a particularly meaningful exchange. She explained to me that the portal in Erbil, Iraq is located within a refugee camp. One young Iraqi man shared his experience of being displaced, while still trying to get his degree in computer science. [I was] “watching grown men cry in the portal. We were all moved by this story of resilience, faith, and community. [This young man is] working towards a future when his circumstances… most people can’t even imagine.”
There were also uplifting stories of young Afghani students practicing their English speaking skills with American students. “I am so happy to be here” and “I am happy to speak English with you,” were common phrases that day.
“We’re seeing what we have in common many, many miles apart,” Ber-Henda says as she spends her last few hours in the portal. Because operations were only sponsored for a little over a month, the portal will go into storage until a new way of funding the project is confirmed.
Shared Studios is seeking sponsors to continue portal operations in Detroit. If you believe in exchange to promote understanding, I hope that you will consider how you might contribute to continue this effort.
“The portal puts a human lens on what we might hear or see in the news about Syria, Mexico, and other places where there is political unrest and tension.”
I am optimistic that the portal will soon emerge from storage in all of its golden glory to continue connecting people, promoting understanding, and crossing borders… with no passport required.
For more information about sponsorship opportunities, please visit: www.sharedstudios.com.