Newsletter, January 2017



Arts and Humanities Civic Engagement


Cultural Agents is an interface between academic learning and civic engagement. The Initiative promotes arts and humanities as social resources.



  • MLA Convention 2017 – Philadelphia

Pre-Texts: The Arts Teach

  • WHEN: January 7 |1:45–3:00 p.m.
  • WHERE: Franklin 10, Marriott Philadelphia
  • WHAT: Program arranged by the MLA Office of Programs, this workshop explores the international pedagogical project Pre-Texts, a teacher-training program that develops readers by using texts as prompts for making art. Pre-Texts offers an approach for advocacy for the arts and humanities as necessary for civic engagement. Participants address opportunities for integrating the program into K–16 foreign language curricula.
  • Presiding: Doris Sommer, Harvard University and speakers: Vialla Hartfield-Méndez, Emory University; Dennis Looney, MLA; Karen A. Stolley, Emory University.

Pre-Texts: The Arts Teach in Languages Other Than English

  • WHEN: January 7 | 3:30–4:45 p.m.
  • WHERE: Franklin 10, Philadelphia Marriott
  • WHAT: This workshop will focus on how Pre-Texts can be integrated in foreign language curriculums.
  • Presiding: Michael B. Prince, Boston University, and speakers: Vialla Hartfield-Méndez, Emory University; Dennis Looney, MLA; Karen A. Stolley, Emory University.

For more information, visit:

The Future of K–16 Alliances in the MLA

  • WHEN: 8 January | 10:15–11:30 a.m.
  • WHERE: Franklin 10, Philadelphia Marriott
  • WHAT: This program is arranged by the MLA Working Group on K–16 Alliances. This session explores ideas for enriching cross-level conversations and exchanges of pedagogical material among secondary school and college teachers of language and literature. Speakers address how the MLA could provide more institutional support for such conversations and exchanges in the future.
  • Presiding: Margaret W. Ferguson, University of California, Davis; Anne Ruggles Gere, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Speakers: Claire Dawkins, Stanford University; Nicole Brittingham Furlonge, Holderness School, NH; Joan Hayden, Mt. Lebanon High School, PA; Elizabeth Hutton, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Doris Sommer, Harvard University.
For further information, please visit:
  • Pre-Texts Workshop in Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • WHEN: January, 10 – 13
  • WHERE: Caraguatatuba, Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • WHAT: The team of Pre-Texts trainers leading by Vivianne Gontijo in collaboration with Jasmine Fernandez from DRCLAS (David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies) will be facilitating a Pre-Texts Workshop for education leaders at Caraguatatuba, in collaboration with Harvard Brazil Office (DRCLAS – Early Childhood Development) and Educational Paideia.
  • Pre-Texts Workshop in Adolfo Ibañez University, Chile
  • WHEN: January, 16 – 21
  • WHERE: Universidad Adolfo Ibañez, Santiago de Chile, Chile.
  • WHAT: A team of Pre-Texts trainers leading by Sergio Araya (Adolfo Ibañez University) will be facilitating a Pre-Texts workshop for educational leaders at the Adolfo Ibañez University in collaboration with Center of Emerging Interfaces and DRCLAS.
For more information on the Center of Emerging Interfaces, visit:
  • Pre-Texts Workshop with  Matriztica Foundation & Santiago Creativo Foundation, Chile 
  • WHEN: January 17
  • WHERE: Santiago de Chile, Chile.
  • WHAT: A team of Pre-Texts trainers will be facilitating a workshop for education leaders with Dr. Humberto Maturana, in collaboration with Fundación Matríztica and Fundación Santiago Creativo.
For more information on Fundación Matríztica and Fundación Santiago Creativo, visit: and
  • Pre-Texts Workshop at the Conservatory Lab Charter School 
  • WHEN: January 25, February 8 and 15  | 12:30 -3:30pm
  • WHERE: Conservatory Lab Charter School, 2120 Dorchester Ave, Dorchester, MA 02124, USA
  • WHAT: A team of Pre-Texts trainers will be facilitating a series of Pre-Texts workshops in collaboration with Dr. Linda Nathan (Executive Director of Center for Artistry and Scholarship) for education leaders of the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Massachusetts. Registration is required.
For more information on the Conservatory Lab Charter School, visit:
  • Pre-Texts Workshop in Choco, Colombia
  • WHEN: January 28 – Feb 4
  • WHERE: Quibdó, Chocó, Colombia
  • WHAT: Thanks to the support of New England Association for Colombian Children (NEACOL) and the Colombian Environmental Ministry, a team of Pre-Texts trainers composed of Professor Victoria Mena, Professor Margarita Gómez and Juan Paulhiac, will be facilitating a Pre-Texts Workshop for educational leaders in Quibdó.
For further information about NEACOL, please visit:

General News: Cultural Agents 

Cultural Agents Course Student Fair

On December 7th students from the course “Cultural Agents: Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding”, taught by Professor Doris Sommer at Harvard University, gathered at Knafel Cafe to present their final projects. The assignments required students to design creative aesthetic interventions to address social issues pertinent to our times. This year’s event showcased a series of refreshing and creative ways of problem solving, innovative interventions, and the great possibilities of smart collaborations.  Some of the ideas presented during the Cultural Agents Student Fair ranged from: digital spaces of dialogue that break through echo chambers; ways of responding to hateful rhetoric; the crowdsourcing and development of dotacle glasses for global education; the re-envisioning of details in public spaces; and awareness of mental health issues in college campuses.

For the full album, please see:

My project is “Hiding Behind a Mask: Facing Your Façade”. My project was really inspired by what I see regularly on campus and I really wouldn’t have thought of this if I hadn’t taken this course. Specifically, the fact of how simple it is to intervene, and how simply you can intervene. Although these large protests and movements require a lot of funding, it always starts with an idea and it’s nice to think you can have those ideas too. To be able to do this project kind of helped me think about how to be able to make a difference in my community through art. Which I somewhat do. I play music, but I never thought about how, for example, if I played music on a street versus a stage how that isolates or invites certain people. Reading the theories was also great because I was able to learn how to read academic papers regarding these topics and then be able to apply them to my specific projects. This course was a great experience, I definitely recommend for other people to take it. I feel it’s welcoming to all backgrounds; I am a STEM concentrator and I feel like I can artistically intervene in my community.
– M.B.
Cultural Agents Course Undergraduate Student
“Humanizing The Crimson Through Social Media Through Humanistic Reimagining” […] was born from me trying to apply the concepts taught within class with the extracurricular things I’m doing. Putting on an aesthetic view and artistic lens into solving issues that have been typically tackled with big data, efficiency, and questions about how to do it mathematically and rationally. A shift in mindset can do a lot of difference. If you think artistically and aesthetically, a lot of the issues that have failed through traditional methods of analytics are successful. At least that is what I’ve learned from the course and by trying to apply these things to the extracurricular life I have.
– H.S.
Cultural Agents Course Undergraduate Student

Open Internship Position at Cultural Agents

General News: Pre-Texts


In Chile, Pre-Texts Combines Art & Reading Comprehension to Improve Students’ Education

Andrés Arancibia, a history teacher at the Roberto Matta de Quillota School, had difficulties in getting his students to get motivated to learn through their assignments. His wasn’t the sole case. It was worrisome for the directive and teaching faculty that the teaching practices in this school were having a low impact in their students’ learning. As part of a solution the school reformulated their Individualized Educational Plan and oriented it towards the arts. As a result, the school decided to apply the Pre-Texts methodology they had learned about through the Red-Lab Sur of Fundacion Chile, instance in which presented new national and international methodologies to more than 100 schools in the country. Arancibia would be one of the first in applying the methodology with his most uninterested students.

He applied the Pre-Texts methodology so his students could learn about the French Revolution. They read about the topic, and the imagination did the rest. The girls took Mary Antoinette as a character and explored the culture and customs of the society at the time.

Although it wasn’t easy for Arancibia to apply Pre-Texts in the begging because he didn’t have much practice and the students weren’t accustomed to it, the change in attitude on behalf of the students was evident. During recess, students would ask the teacher about ways of obtaining more information about the topic discussed in class. “There was an authentic interest for the activity they were doing, unlike normal classes when one gives them an assignment and the next day their notebooks are blank, because the students didn’t even remember.

– Fundación Chile 

For the full article, please visit:

Arancibia had taken a small workshop with Pre-Texts facilitators almost two years ago through the Red-Lab Sur of Fundacion Chile. Professor Doris Sommer will be returning to Chile in January to provide a Pre-Texts workshop at the Adolfo Ibañez University in collaboration with the Center of Emerging Interfaces. In addition, another workshop will be held in collaboration with Fundación Matríztica and Fundación Santiago Creativo.

Featured Story

La Cuarenta, an initiative by the University of
Los Andes, wins contest hosted by the
Inter-American Development Bank

IMAGE SOURCE: Video Still | University of Los Andes

The initiative of the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Art and Humanities from the University of Los Andes, to make visible the situation of prisoners, was selected amongst 260 proposals in a contest hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The challenge required participants to find ways of reducing stigmatization and promote the labor reinsertion of people deprived of their liberty. With this objective, 260 proposals from Latin America and the Caribbean were presented. Colombia was the country that boasted the most initiatives, with a total of 67 entries in the contest hosted by the IDB’s Innovation Lab and citizen security initiatives.

Amongst the five that were selected is La Cuarenta, a co-creation project of communication products focused on the expectations, fears, and barriers that the prisoner population confronts when re-entering civic life. This project is a result of a collaboration between the Group of Prisons, the Law Faculty, and the Art Department. The initiative was born in 2015 and has given rise to two photonovels and plays, whose actors are part of Bogota’s La Modelo’s prison theater troop, Abrakadabra.

According to the creators of La Cuarenta, “this project aims to shed light on the issues that face the population deprived from their liberties and to sensitize society about the difficult situation they live, during and after their imprisonment”.

The theatre troop presented on two occasions in Los Andes as part of the initiative, and with support from the IDB they will continue presenting in state authority departments and for civic society. Through this they plan to continue promoting the project, which integrates representatives of the prison population with students and professors of the Faculty of Art and Humanities of the University of Los Andes.

For Manuel Iturralde, who coordinates the initiative along with Lucas Ospina, receiving support from IDB has helped to serve as a springboard for the work they have been doing and to showcase a project that could be replicated throughout Latin America – where there are 1.5 million people in prison. With the economic incentive, they plan to develop a third edition of the photonovel and a website that continues sensitizing about internal problematic issues of Colombia.

– Faculty of Art and Humanities,
University of Los Andes, Colombia

Addressing this new year, writers weigh in
on why we need art more than ever


Even before the year 2017 rolled in, many artists, writers, and scholars began addressing societies’ growing concern about the national and global challenges the upcoming years would present. Multiple public figures elevated their voices to spread a breath of hope and resilience in the face of seemingly trying times. More than anything, they reminded us that these are precisely the moments when we need art the most.
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
– Toni Morrison, 

Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer

What makes the humanities absolutely necessary is, if you’re not a metaphysical and a spiritual person, you can use the word soul in a secular way, right? The humanities is the only set of traditions — and the arts, the humanities understood broadly — is the only set of traditions that we have that educates the soul.
Nothing else does so. You can take all the engineering and computer classes you want, but I can tell you that what consistently helps us understand what it means to be human, and offers us spaces where we can contemplate the improvement of that condition, has always been the humanities and the arts. And so therefore it’s absolutely essential.
– Junot Diaz
Pulitzer Prize-winning Dominican American writer


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Cases for Culture Cultural Agents Department of Architecture Doris Sommer Italia Launch Videos Mental Health Opportunities Partners Pre-Texts Rennaisance Now Social Equity
January 2, 2017
by Rodriguez