Portal at Crissy Field to Whisk Visitors to Mexico, Iraq, India, and Other Locales

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Ranger Michele Gee experiences the Portal

Our parks have always been places where we get together with family, friends, and neighbors.

But what if that “neighbor” was 7,000 miles away—in Erbil, Iraq?

In Summer 2017, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and National Park Service will partner with Shared_Studios and Luminalt to host a Portal at Crissy Field. Through this magic window, you will be able to say hello—in the same virtual “space”—to someone smiling back at you from a couple continents and an ocean away.

The Portal, a creation of the geniuses at Shared_Studios (an art, design, and technology collaborative), is a gold-painted shipping container filled with immersive audiovisual equipment. Up to eight people can enter the wheelchair-accessible, climate-controlled chamber…and then come face-to-face with another individual or group in another Portal, somewhere else in the world. Currently, Portals are located at over 20 different locations scattered across 11 countries—including Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Honduras, India, and the United States.

As the latest project in our Art in the Parks program, the Portal extends—by several degrees of magnitude and distance—the powerful conversations that have been triggered by previous art installations and exhibitions.

“We think having [the Portal] in this public/democratic space—our parklands—offers a great platform for discussing all kinds of topics and ideas not only with people on the other side of the world, but also with those a few states over,” says Sabrina Bedford, the Parks Conservancy’s Art & Community Engagement Coordinator. “The Portal is an excellent way to continue the meaningful creative experiences previous Art in the Park projects have inspired, like Home Land Security and @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, to talk about things we care about—with people we might otherwise never get to know.”

It’s the ultimate social media interaction—in which the “media” are merely an Internet connection and a barely perceptible screen, and the “social” naturally happens when two strangers, appearing life-size, look each other directly in the eye and exchange warm greetings.

Echoing the purpose of the Presidio Tunnel Tops project to build a convivial new parkland (located a stone’s throw from Crissy Field), the Portals also bring together people of diverse backgrounds to converse, create, and play. By offering an opportunity to meaningfully share stories across space and in real-time, the Portal fosters greater understanding of others’ cultures, ideas, perspectives, and experiences.

“In a time like this, when we are often equipped with the ability to connect to anyone, anywhere and find out new information…misinformation and misunderstanding can travel just as quickly,” Bedford explains. “The Portal allows us to connect with people we would not normally be able to meet and to better understand them as a person, beyond photos or headlines. Even if one were to travel to that country, you may not actually interact with individuals this way—you still experience the place through a visitor’s eyes. This way you’re introduced to a person and learn about the place through their words and point of view.”

The San Francisco Portal is coming soon to the heart of the Golden Gate National Parks—at the Crissy East Beach, near the Crissy Field Center. It will be open to the public Thursday through Sunday. Solar-powered by Luminalt, the Portal will be staffed by a Portal Curator, and live language interpretation will be provided.

Participation is free, but preregistration is required. For details, visit sharedstudios.com/sf.

Michael Hsu joined the Parks Conservancy Communications team in 2007 with a professional background in newspapers and magazines.

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