Step inside the gold-painted shipping container and you will be face to face with people from around the world—in as many as eight different time zones.
The Richmond Portal links strangers through a pair of 8-foot video screens and other audiovisual technology. The container is at the State Fair of Virginia in Caroline County this week and schedules at least three communities to connect with each day.
The Richmond Portal connects to the Shared_Studios Portal network, which includes sites in the United States, Europe, Eastern and Western Asia, and North and Central America. Live translation is available, and the Portal is free and open to all ages.
Inside the air-conditioned Portal is space for six people to sit and talk, dance, play and collaborate as if in the same room. The shipping containers are modified and outfitted with immersive audiovisual technology.
Several high school students studying marketing visited the exhibit, and instantly started a conversation about marketing and social media with Mira Bakri of Gaza City.
Each of the Portal sites is staffed by local curators.
The project’s goal is to share languages, world culture, science and technology knowledge among diverse groups, said Karen Manning, Richmond Portal’s community engagement coordinator.
“We develop a strategy to work with under-served schools and homeschoolers, etc., to get them into the Portal and to create a global classroom,” Manning said. “We have had students come in and talk to street artists in Mexico, learned the history of street art, and used the information for data mining.”
The Richmond Portal is the only one in Virginia and is typically parked at Maymont Park. It is sponsored by a Richmond couple and other donated funds.
The closest Portal to Virginia is located in Hardy County, W.Va. A group of quilters at the fair in Caroline connected with quilters at the Hardy County Heritage Fair this week.
“Both sides were sharing their work and education from master quilters, and cultivating younger interests in quilting,” Manning said.
Shared_Studios founder Amar Bakshi created the Portal as a way to connect diverse groups separated by distance and to reinforce humanity.