Downtown Detroit shipping container talks to the world
Call it the ultimate in global person-to-person contact.
In Spirit Plaza downtown, a gold-painted shipping container allows Detroiters to have lengthy conversations with people in 40-plus cities worldwide.
All part of a project called Shared Studios, these immersive exchanges take place on life-sized video screens, making it feel a bit like those folks in Sao Paulo, Brazil -- or Qatar, S. Korea or the Gaza Strip -- are just a few feet away.
This isn't your father's videoconferencing. And it's the polar opposite of social-media interaction played out on a dinky screen. Because the strangers you're talking to are large as life, you might as well be in the same living room.
"Shared Studios takes human sincerity to a whole new level," said Detroiter Hannah Morris, one of the on-site curators who's there to help should conversation flag. "The media sometimes presents such a distorted view of other places," she said, "why not take the time to talk to someone who's actually there and learn the truth?"
The gold shipping container will be downtown, just across from the "Spirit of Detroit," through Sunday.
Farmington resident Ellen Chamberlain has dropped in several times over the past week, and particularly enjoyed an exchange she had with a group of young people in Jerusalem.
"That was really fun. Jerusalem is so diverse," she said, "and they were really honest and forthcoming. They didn't give us the typical answers for tourists."
Shared Studios is the brainchild of Amar C. Bakshi, an artist and former Washington Post reporter who first launched the project in 2014 to connect citizens in two cultures with a history of misunderstanding -- with one shipping container in New York and another in Tehran, Iran.
Bakshi has previously said that he started the project "to connect people who wouldn't otherwise meet."
Conversations are scheduled in advance, and run from one to three hours. On Thursday evening, artists in Chicago and Detroit were in the process of connecting. And there's an exchange planned Sunday morning with Palestinian residents of Gaza City.
Another of the Detroit curators, Danielle Kaltz, called Shared Studios "an opportunity to drop our walls and learn."
On Thursday morning, the conversation was with women in Qatar.
"I was talking with two ladies in burqas, and asked what they wore under them," Kaltz said with a laugh. "And they said, ‘T-shirts and jeans.’"
Many of the participants, she added, seem determined to stay in touch.
"People are sharing their handles on Instagram and Twitter so they can follow each other," Kaltz said. "It’s making the world a smaller place, and I can get behind that 100 percent."