“Literally everyone says, as they step out the door, ‘That was so cool!’” said Deb Thornton with a laugh, as we stand outside the gleaming gold door of The Portal, a worldwide phenomenon now visiting Colorado Springs.
Portals are gold shipping containers equipped with immersive audio-visual technology. When you enter one, you come face-to-face, live, full-body, with someone in an identical gold shipping container somewhere else on Earth.
The Colorado Springs Portal connects to countries around the globe, including Afghanistan, Jordan, Germany, Honduras, Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, Myanmar, Palestine, Rwanda and the UK. I filmed my visit to the Portal while it was connected to Jordan, to give Cheyenne Edition readers a sneak peek of the experience. Watch it at tinyurl.com/ydb7r23w.
Since launch in 2014, Portals have connected more than 45,000 people around the world in intimate, one-on-one dialogues. Events and sites that have hosted Portals include TED 2017, Global Entrepreneurship Summit, Sundance Film Festival, Chicago Ideas Week, Sundance Film Festival, Conference on World Affairs, Burning Man, SXSW Festival (Austin), Mumbai Marathon, Yale University — and now, the local What If? Festival of Imagination and Innovation!
The What If? Festival is an annual celebration that takes over six blocks of Downtown Colorado Springs and draws crowds of 25,000 people each September. This year, it will be held Sept. 9, and the Portal will be one of its centerpiece experiences.
“These experiences highlight Colorado Springs as a collaborative, creative, mountain of talent, worth connecting to,” said Thornton, executive director of Imagination Celebration, the local nonprofit that will host the Portal and produces the What If? Festival each year. “This pop-up interactive Portal fits the “What IF … Festival” goals of creative engagement, collaboration, education and connection.”
“I definitely feel connected in there,” said Alyssa Karpa, my colleague at the Cultural Office and a regular visitor to The Portal. “There are ways to connect without language.”
For example, Karpa has done yoga with Portal visitors in Gaza, and heard live sitar music played by someone there, accompanied by music and dancing.
She had a discussion with a Syrian refugee in Berlin, who asked her questions about the differences between the American people and the international image of American policy. “I think it’s easy for us to forget about people who exist in other countries. The Portal is a way to get to know them and understand that we all can relate, regardless of our cultural or political differences,” Karpa said.
Karpa keeps going back because it’s such an opportunity to meet people from different cultures and build her knowledge of the global community. Plus, it’s a block away from our office and many others Downtown.
“You can so easily pop in, say ‘hi,’ and leave. You don’t need to stay very long and you don’t have to have anything planned to say or do.” Karpa said.
Thornton agrees. “We really just want people to have conversations.”
To help inspire those conversations, Imagination Celebration has been instigating a series of programmed exchanges among musicians, athletes, poets, entrepreneurs, dancers, filmmakers, visual artists, writers, chefs, designers, coders, architects, start-ups and more to engage with their counterparts around the world. These programmed experiences are always open for the public to drop-in and join the fun. Unstructured, open hours are also offered many weekday mornings.
I want to invite you to visit the Portal while it’s here, perhaps during the What If? Festival next month, when it will be surrounded by other interactive and free experiences. It is an incredible opportunity for the Cheyenne Mountain community to join the rest of our region in saying “hello” — in as many ways as we can imagine — to neighbors from around the world.
Originally written by Angela Seals of the Cultural Office and published in the Cheyenne and Woodmen Editions on August 15, 2017.