Newsletter, June 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.



Latin America on STEAM
Pre-Texts Workshop
  • WHEN: June 30 – July 1, 2017
  • WHERE: Harvard University
  • WHAT:  “Pre-Texts Workshop with visiting students from Chocó (Colombia) at Harvard University. As part of our Latin America on STEAM collaboration, we’ll be working with a scientific text on Astrodynamics provided by our collaborator Bonnie Prado, PhD candidate in Aerospace Engineering at Purdue University, from Quibdó.”

Art and Interpretation
in Public Life

  • WHEN: June, 2017
  • WHERE: 29 Oxford Street
    Cambridge, MA 02138
  • WHAT: This exploratory seminar considered two complementary approaches toward developing the humanities and creative arts as vital contributions to civic life. The issue is urgent, because without humanistic training in the pleasures of multiple interpretations, it may be impossible to sustain democratic politics.
  • SEMINAR LEADERS: Doris Sommer, Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences
    Danielle Allen, Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences
Trends in 21st Century Education
and Its Use of Technology
Recording Lives: Libraries and Archives
in the Digital Age
  • WHEN: October 5-7, 2017
  • WHERE: Rabb Hall, Boston Public Library, Boston University Center for the Humanities
  • Inaugural Forum Recording Lives: Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age
  • Public Lecture:
    by Professor Robert Darnton, with Sir Christopher Ricks, Commentator
    October 5th, 6:00 pm
    Rabb Hall, Boston Public LibraryThe role of archives and libraries in our digital age is one of the most pressing concerns of humanists, scholars, and citizens worldwide. Questions of what to keep and how to keep it touch the very core of who we are as individuals, cultures, nations, and humankind.
           More information coming soon.

General News: Cultural Agents 

‘Sin arte no se puede pensar en cambios sociales’ (Without art we can’t think in social changes)

Last May 12th, the ecuadorian daily El Comercio published an article entitled ‘Sin arte no se puede pensar en cambios sociales’ (Without art we can’t think in social changes) in which they unfold Harvard professor Doris Sommer’s premise: through humanism aesthetic judgment is developed. Sommer visited Ecuador to make a Pre-Texts workshop and facilitate a conference in the Universidad Andina Simón Bolivar, entitled ‘El arte obra en el mundo: Cultura ciudadana y humanidades públicas’ (Art Works in the World: Civic Culture and Public Humanities). The article makes emphasis on some important points on Sommer’s conference: the role of art in social development is indispensable as it is the only place in which one can ramble as a way of discovering and getting knowledge; the artist, she says, is the only one who will give one 4 answers to the same question. Therefore Sommer encourages everyone to exert the right of imagination based on the reflections of many thinkers, including Schiller, Kant, Augusto Boal even the former mayor of Bogotá city Antanas Mockus’s. As an intellectual, Sommer proposes this thought should not remain as discourse but become a practical thing that traverse the daily life. That’s why Pre-Texts, an initiative she carries out, is a training-teachers program where texts are the raw material to create experiences in the classroom, a space that, she considers, is the best platform to expand creativity allowing the reader to become an user of the information, to create new worlds.

To read more about the visit of Doris Sommer in Quito, check the following Spanish articles through these links:

CulturalAgents Reloaded:
The Legacy of Antanas Mockus

In the framework of a tribute conference to highlight the legacy and contributions of Antanas Mockus to society, the book “Cultural Agents Reloaded: The Legacy of Antanas Mockus,” was released. Harvard University, National University of Colombia, as well as the Economical Culture Fund and Corporvisionarios enabled the launch of the book that occurred last May 13th with the presence of a great group of intellectuals and politicians including senator Claudia López, cultural deputy manager of the Bank of the Republic Ángela Perez, Ira Jewell Williams Jr., Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and African and African American Studies Doris Sommer, Editors, Carlo Tognato and José Luis Falconi, and former mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus.

The launch event allowed both authors and guests to have a conversation with the protagonist and listen about the process of making the book that included essays, interviews and commentaries from Jaime Ramos Arenas, Javier Sáenz Obregón, Jesús Martín-Barbero, Enrique Chaux, Henrry Murrain, Fabio López de la Roche, Lucas Ospina, Andrés Salcedo among others. This compilation confirms how Antanas Mockus’s achievements attest the potential of creative and symbolic practices in social changes as well as failures show what happens when cultural agency takes divergent ways.

Intimate Rumors:
Landscape, México and Cold War
(in Colombia)

Last May 12th in the facilities of the National Library of Colombia held the first international art and visual culture symposium: “Rumores Íntimos: Paisaje, México y Guerra Fría” (Intimate Rumors: Landscape, México and Cold War). Under the direction of José Falconi; Robin Greeley (UCONN), Ana María Reyes (Boston University) and Doris Sommer (Harvard University), three of the most important scholars of Latin American Art in the United States, offers fresh interpretations of key passages of Colombian art, ranging from its Colonial past to its modernist canon and the contemporary production. In the last part of the meeting a discussion was developed between the scholars and the professors John Castles, Christian Padilla, Emilio Tarazona y Guillermo Vanegas (members of The ASAB).

The event was the result of an academic cooperation between Proyecto Bachué and The ASAB (Arts Faculty of the Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas).

General News: Pre-Texts

Pre-Texts in
Universidad Andina Simón Bolivar

(Quito, Ecuador)

On Monday, May 8th, there was a really intense day in classrooms at Universidad Andina. During afternoon, Professor Doris Sommer from Harvard University led the Pre-Texts workshop: Literacy, Innovation and Citizenship. About 70 teachers from different levels, administrators, psychologists and community Leaders attended the O31 class. The activities developed in the workshop were an introduction to a pedagogy based on popular practices that showed several mechanisms to build bridges between knowledges in order to weave a strong, agile, and egalitarian society. Firstly, a short text created by Venezuelan writer Teresa de la Parra, about Manuela Sáenz was read out loud. Then, each of the participants elaborated a card board publication, exhibited the text that was hanged with pincers in a clothesline and did theatrical representations. All the participants recognized the dynamism from Professor Sommer as the workshop leader and gave testimony to have experimented the infinite possibilities of ‘serious playing’ with a literary text in ways that allow the reader to have a better assimilation, and tools for teachers to implement new strategies. At the end of the day, in the main room Sala Manuela Sáenz, Professor Doris Sommer facilitated the conference, “The Work of Art in the World: Civic Culture and Public Humanities,” where more than 90 people attended. Doris Sommer’s presence in Quito was enriching not only for Teachers, but for students and the general public.

Fernando Balseca, Universidad Andina

Pre-Texts in Quibdó

Check the new video about Pre-Texts training at Escuela Normal
Superior of Quibdó (Colombia).
Click here for more information about this experience: 

Featured Story

Why Only Art Can Save Us

Santiago Zabala declares that in an age where the greatest emergency is the absence of emergency, only contemporary art’s capacity to alter reality can
save us


Why Only Art Can Save Us advances a new aesthetics centered on the nature of the emergency that characterizes the twenty-first century. Zabala draws on Martin Heidegger’s distinction between works of art that rescue us from emergency and those that are rescuers into emergency.


Zabala argues that works of art are not simply for an elevated consumerism or the contemplation of beauty but are points of departure to change the world. Radical artists create works that disclose and demand active intervention into ongoing crises. Interpreting works of art that aim to propel us into absent emergencies, Zabala shows how art’s ability to create new realities is fundamental to the politics of radical democracy in the state of emergency that is the present.

To view the full article:

Art and Literature are Vital to Society –  Here’s Why


Silence, it is said, implies consent. But that’s only half the story. Silence also confirms oppression, because the ability to speak out is too often a luxury of the privileged.
The aggressive populism we see today seems to be a testament to people refusing to be silent — and rightly so. Our societies have largely failed to provide equally for all, and technology now gives us new avenues through which to to be heard, and with which to rebel against repressive ideas and structures. New leaders have latched onto that and now seek to speak for us, even though many of them are rallying us crudely around fear and mistrust. But there is hope where there is life, even such as it is now. Because it reveals potential. This is where, counterintuitively, literature and creative writing come in.


Fiction teaches us about characters and empathy, plot and consequences, and the value of nuance to truth. Poetry teaches us how to distill language, value silence, and understand metaphor. Non-fiction (which certainly includes journalism) teaches us accountability to facts, critical thinking about the systems in society, and the importance of getting out into the world to listen to others. These are but a few of the skills one learns from writing creatively.


Are those life lessons not vital to democracy? To have a voice is to have a vote. To have a vote is to be represented in society. To represent ourselves clearly and confidently empowers us citizens to air our own concerns and our community’s grievances, to be accountable for ourselves, and to demand the accountability of our leaders. If we are not trained to articulate our arguments properly, we will never be heard legitimately, and we can be ignored too conveniently.


So there is clearly work to be done. Not all art must be inclusive, but no art should be exclusive. Neither literature nor creative writing must ever be privileged as a luxury, for our story will be too easily controlled that way. And while art itself might not change the world, it’s abundantly clear that it can empower those who will.

Samantha Lee. Intern at Cultural Agents

To view the full article:

For more information on upcoming events, please visit our website:


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