Scotland’s portal to the world: arts collaboration Climate Portals for COP26 creates powerful global connections

Scotland’s portal to the world: arts collaboration Climate Portals for COP26 creates powerful global connections

Published: 22/10/2021

It’s Scotland’s portal to the world … a ten-foot, golden shipping container that will connect strangers across the globe through the universal language of the arts.

Based at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the converted container, with its life-sized screen and a livestream link, will bring Glaswegians face-to-face with people they’d never otherwise meet, who live thousands of miles away in locations like Rwanda, Uganda, Gaza and Iraq.

The only one of its kind in Scotland, the container is at the heart of the Climate Portals project, an ambitious arts collaboration between the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Shared_Studios, HarrisonParrott and Scottish Ballet.

Funded by the British Council as one of its Creative Commissions, the project is part of the cultural programme in the build-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which is hosted in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12. 

Climate Portals takes an inventive and intimate approach to the climate change debate, exploring the themes surrounding COP26 and providing a space for people from all walks of life to talk, spark ideas, share thoughts and experiences as if they’re in the same room.

The Climate Portals festival will run from October 25 to November 12 with two separate elements.

Climate Portals festival programme

One strand is a portal-to-portal programme of events where Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students and staff will create work and performances to share with audiences who are based near the worldwide portals, staging everything from a mini-opera to a 12-hour music improvisation session.

They’ll also take part in discussions to explore the role of the arts and artists in driving change. For this programme, the Glasgow portal will link to Erbil, Iraq; Mexico City, Mexico; Lagos, Nigeria; Gaza, Palestinian Territories; Kigali, Rwanda and Nakivale, Uganda.

There is a public strand to the festival where the container will throw open its doors in a series of open-hour connections where visitors can enjoy interesting and engaging conversations with people at portals in Rwanda, Uganda, Gaza, Iraq and Mexico.

During COP26, a daily Climate Café will also take place from 11am to 12pm around the portal to explore key themes related to the climate crisis. Each session will begin with an invited speaker, including experts in fashion, music, theatre and food production, which will be followed by informal discussions and accompanied by tea, coffee and home baking.

Public events also include:

Sally Charlton + Althea Young

November 5, 4-5pm | November 11, 2-3pm

Charlton and Young explore distance and phone calls as a form of time travel. This work explores to what degree our voices are us and if our voices are enough to transcend great distances to be with each other.

Laura Bissell + David Overend

November 11, time TBC. Supported by Edinburgh Futures Institute

Experience an audio walk down Hope Street (15mins) then listen to an audio walk created in Mexico City on your return journey to the portal (15mins). You will then enter the portal to meet someone in Mexico City who has also listened to the sounds of both places.

Hope Street has been at the top of the list of Scotland’s most polluted streets for many years.

Hope Street is a microcosm: Abandonment, climate change, precarity.

And yet everywhere …

The buddleia, the birds,

The grasses poking through pavements, seeking the sunlight.

Walking down Hope Street takes us further than might be assumed.


All events must be pre-booked via the RCS Green Room


Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said: “The arts have a vital role to play to unite people and make a positive difference in the world as we tackle climate change together. The exciting Climate Portals project enables us to connect and share experiences with artists around the world in the run-up to COP26. It’s fantastic to see the possibilities of creative connection we have over the coming weeks and the activity being curated at the portal by our Research and Knowledge Exchange team.”

Henry Southern, Tours and Projects Manager at international artist management company, HarrisonParrott, said: “Creating truly distinctive and thought-provoking work has been part of HarrisonParrott’s ethos for over 50 years. Climate Portals demonstrates our dedication to present projects that promote international cultural exchange, diversity and inclusivity, technological innovation and, of course, sustainability.

“We endeavour to embrace the challenge of climate change and we are proud of how Climate Portals is addressing this pertinent topic through global conversations and artistic exchange. We hope that it will inspire transformational change.”

The shipping container is the creation of Shared_Studios, which began as an art project in 2014 and was founded on the idea of bringing distant strangers together using technology for powerful first-person encounters.

Brandon Ferderer, Director of Global Community at Shared_Studios, said: “Over the past seven years, Shared_Studios has leveraged technology to connect communities separated by distance and difference – using transformative conversational practices to address the world’s most pressing issues.

“We are thrilled to be a part of Climate Portals, to connect communities around the world to exchange ideas and collaborate on solutions on the environment and sustainability. Climate Portals provides a space for people to listen and to learn from the lived experiences of communities, artists, experts and changemakers around the world.”

Climate Portals is one of seventeen UK projects – called Creative Commissions – funded by the British Council to bring together art, science and digital technology to offer innovative, interdisciplinary and collaborative responses to climate change. The Creative Commissions were awarded through a competitive open call process, and over 480 proposals were received from all over the world.

Rosanna Lewis, Creative Commissions lead, British Council says: “The Creative Commissions are an impressive set of unique and bespoke projects addressing climate-related challenges from around the world. Each project explores our relationship to ourselves, to one another, and to our environment. Through arts, science and digital technology, stories are brought to life and action is being taken by indigenous communities, young people, artists, researchers, and many more. The British Council is honoured to work with such talented and passionate partners to raise awareness of climate change and the role of arts and culture to address shared global challenges.”

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