On the east side of Kylde Warren Park in the heart of Dallas’ Arts District, past food trucks and kids splashing in cool fountains, sits a magical gold box. Stepping inside this gold box can transport you across the country or across the world, connecting the curious with conversations in cities like Berlin, San Juan, or Kigali.
The Dallas Portal, created by Shared Studios, is a gold-painted shipping container outfitted with a large video screen and internet connection. The styled space creates a life-sized, real-time connection to people who have entered a portal in another location. Each portal is staffed with a curator, responsible for language translation, conversation starters, and organizing special connection events.
But shipping containers don’t simply appear in the park without a little help. The Dallas Portal was championed by Amy Bean, a North Dallas native, who heard about the Portal project on NPR. Her initial reaction was “Why doesn’t Dallas have one of these?” That question led to conversations with the Shared Studio staff and the creation of a fund through the Dallas Foundation in order to gather the resources needed to bring a Portal to DFW. Amy’s background includes earning a Masters Degree in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School, serving as Executive Director for a nonprofit preparatory school for underprivileged girls in Texas, and founding Tiny Bee Gift Co., a social enterprise that sells personalized gift books and gives a duplicate book to a school library of the giver’s choice. With social good at the front her mind, this mother of three has focused her energy on gathering the necessary resources to keep the Portal in Dallas. “This is a curation of connection experiences – it is refreshing for your soul,” Amy explained.
Two to three times a day, the Dallas Portal connects with one of 40-plus locations and over 6,000 people visited since it opened in March. One of the most impactful locations for Amy is a refugee camp outside Erbil, Iraq. Home to 1,500 internally displaced Iraqi families who fled conflict in Mosul and the surrounding area, the camp features a Portal in a converted water pumping station. The Erbil curator, Rami, lives in the camp and often sends video clips of life around the camp. The live conversations with international locations like Erbil often start with questions about food, music, and dancing, then lead to exchanges of thoughts, opinions, and stories.
Matthieu, the Dallas Portal curator points to his most meaningful connection a little closer to home. “In a connection with Tempe, AZ, a father and son were able to speak with a woman in our portal who has downs syndrome,” he shared. “They spoke for more than 20 minutes and had a genuine exchange and connection.” Matthieu joined the Portal team when the Dallas location opened. Born in France, he studied cinema in university, then taught English in Spain where he met his wife. Matthieu’s translations skills have been helpful at times, but curators default to English in most conversations.
The Dallas portal has been full of park patrons, as well as students visiting the Dallas Museum of Art on school field trips. After a lunch in the park, students are invited to connect with other students at schools in Oakland, Brooklyn, or Colorado Springs, as well as international locations. With plenty of dance exchanges and selfies, students are able to experience the similarities and contrasts of cultures. It is experiences like this that have Amy hoping the Dallas Portal will find a new home after its stay is finished at Klyde Warren. She is speaking with several potential location partners, searching for an optimal location with plenty of foot traffic and curiosity.
If you would like to visit the Dallas Portal, it will be open at Kylde Warren Park through the end of May, and a new location will be announced once determined. You can check the Portal website to see what countries are connecting each day.
If you know someone who is Doing Good in Dallas, we’d love to hear about it! Share their story with us.
Story by Mary Martin. Photos by Hunter Lacey.