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Newsletter, 24 October 2014  

Cultural Agents Initiative: Arts and Humanities in Civic Engagement

Student work produced as part of a Pre-Texts activity that was implemented in a reading and writing class. Ateneo Fuente. Mexico. September 2014. 

24 October 2014

Dear Friends,

We hope you enjoy this weekly update, which highlights some of our recent activities and the work of other cultural agents. Please see our websites for more information, news, and a list of our upcoming events:
http://www.culturalagents.org and www.pre-texts.org.

As we hope to support your work as a cultural agent too, please send your news to us at cultagen@fas.harvard.edu.

To all of our supporters, “connectionists” (tejedores, tecelões), and collaborators throughout the world, thank you!

With many thanks,
The Cultural Agents Team


Antanas Mockus–philosopher, former mayor of Bogotá, and current President of Corpovisionarios–Professor Doris Sommer, Professor Sugata Bose, and Homi Bhabha discussed the arts, citizenship and the state during the event, “The Stirring of Culture” at Harvard University. Antanas addressed similar themes at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in front of Pedro Reyes’s sculpture Colloquium, which is part of the exhibition Conversation Piece. The MFA and the Cultural Agents Initiative will continue this dialogue with a talk by art historian Grant Kester on December 10.

Multi-media artist Jay Critchley spoke to students in Doris Sommer and Francesco Erspamer’s course Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 13: Cultural Agents. Jay introduced students to projects such as his founding of the patriotic Old Glory Condom Corporation, which won a controversial three-year legal battle for its U.S. Trademark. Old Glory was launched at the MIT List Visual Arts Center in 1989 to address the attempt by the U.S. Congress to amend the Constitution to ban flag desecration, and the government’s avoidance of the topic of HIV/AIDS.
For more on Jay’s work, visit his website: http://jaycritchley.com/


Mexico
After using Pre-Texts to engage Spanish-speaking students in English language learning at the Universidad Autónoma de Coahuila in Monclova, facilitators report an increase in teamwork and the improvement of language skills. According to facilitators, Pre-Texts has created a safe environment in which students feel free and motivated to express and experiment with English despite their limited vocabulary. This has allowed students to “conceptualize and think in English,” in addition to improving their technical vocabulary, reading comprehension and ability to express their ideas.

United States 
Lisa Crossman and Harvard PhD Candidate Amy Fish facilitated a Pre-Texts workshop for a group of ninth graders from Brighton High School, using an excerpt from Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus. The workshop was part of Harvard’s Project Teach program, which brings students from Boston Public Schools to campus.

Project Teach is an early college awareness program that demystifies college and presents higher education as an attainable and affordable aspiration. A collaboration between local urban public school systems, Harvard College, and Harvard University’s Office of Public Affairs and Communications, Project Teach aims to motivate more youth to think about college by familiarizing them with the university environment.

For more on Project Teach, see:
http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2014/03/a-sampling-of-college/

http://www.community.harvard.edu/blog/project-teach-part-1-putnam-ave-upper-school-visits-harvard?tid=1982


Other Active Cultural Agents 

United States
Art at Work is a national initiative that uses art to address municipal problems and to develop creative solutions involving the city employers as well as the communities they serve. Since its beginnings in the City of Portland, Maine in 2007, Art at Work has proved the innovative potential of arts by fostering projects of poetry, collages, photographs and music to produce new insights into the city’s difficulties and to improve the functioning of the municipal government. This initiative has engaged over 25,000 people in the Portland region and is now looking to partner with more cities. To read more about this initiative, see: http://www.artatwork.us/portland.php

Sexual assault continues to be one of the most controversial subjects on college campuses, which has prompted different responses from artists. One of the most well known thus far is the powerful performance “Carry That Weight,” developed by Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz as part of her senior thesis. The piece, in which the artist drags her dorm room mattress with her wherever she goes on campus, calls attention to her having been sexually assaulted by another student and signals the failure of the university to sanction the alleged attacker. To read an article about Emma Sulkowicz’s performance, see:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/22/arts/design/in-a-mattress-a-fulcrum-of-art-and-political-protest.html?_r=1

Another example is the “PACT5” national movement. It is an initiative led by students and faculty of five universities:  Rowan University, California State University at Northridge, Western State Colorado University, Northern Illinois University, and Framingham State University. The project aims to use documentaries and other media produced by students to address the issue of sexual assault from students’ perspectives. These art-based initiatives have received worldwide coverage and have contributed to the development of innovative ways to deal with this complicated issue.To read more about the PACT5 movement, see:  http://pact5.org/

Colombia
After more than 220,000 casualties and over 50 years of conflict, the magnitude of Colombia’s internal disputes has marked the work of many artists over the years. Among the most renowned, for instances, are the photographic works of Stephen Ferry and the performances and sculptures of Colombian artists Doris Salcedo and Maria José Arjona. More recently, with the possibility of a negotiated end to the conflict in view, artists are reinterpreting the tragic memory of these decades of conflict. For example, the Mangrove Project (Proyecto Mangle) is an installation that uses 652,351 sounds to involve spectators in the memory of the last 30 years of conflict and the tragedy of the displacement of 4.7 million inhabitants. Created by 4 Colombians living in Germany, this work was recently displayed at the Berlin University of the Arts. To read an article on this project in Spanish, see:
http://www.revistaarcadia.com/arte/articulo/mangle-construccion-de-memoria-partir-del-arte-la-naturaleza/39348

To read more on the project, visit: http://www.proyecto-mangle.com/

The Cultural Agents Initiative recognizes the arts and humanities as vital resources for positive social change. Working from a long humanistic tradition dedicated to civic development, we focus on identifying artists, educators, and leaders who have developed creative practices and respond to the role of art in building civil society and confronting its challenges.
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October 24, 2014
by Rodriguez