Newsletter, March 2019


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.

Upcoming Events


The music artist and co-founder of The Roots, Questlove, comes to campus to discuss his recent manifesto on creating, culture and learning — Creative Quest, a New York Times bestseller and nominated for a Grammy Award — and what it means to the future.

The event is co-sponsored by The Cultural Agents Initiative via its Keywords seminar series (sponsored by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs) and the Paulson School of Engineering & Applied Sciences at Harvard University.

When: April 12, 2pm — 4pm

Where: The Science Center (Lecture Hall D), 1 Oxford St, Cambridge, MA 02138

For more information, visit this link.

Registrations are now CLOSED.

Doors for ticket holders will open at 1.30pm. Doors for general public (non-ticket holders) will open at 1.45pm, after which reservation via tickets will be forfeited and seating will be on a first come first served basis.

In this highly anticipated gathering, writers Renato Cisneros, José Carlos Agüero, and Lurgio Gavilán join literary scholar Alexandra Hibbett to engage in a discussion not only of their respective works but, more importantly, on what they have learned from each other through the capacity of literature to open new spaces for reconciliation.

Presented in collaboration with Mahindra Humanities Center, Weatherhead Institute of Politics, Cultural Agents Initiative, the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, and Art Life Laboratory.

When: Saturday, April 13, 2019 | 1 to 5pm

Where: Room S-216, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
For more information, visit this link.

Contact Paola Ibarra at to RSVP.

The Bok Center and Professor Doris Sommer, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures and African and African American Studies, invite Faculty and Teaching Fellows interested in creative ways of engaging with texts to participate in a 3-session workshop to explore Pre-Texts for adaptation in the Harvard classroom.

Participation in the three sessions of Pre-Texts will be considered equivalent to one Bok Seminar for graduate students pursuing either a Bok Teaching Certificate or Bok Certificate in Teaching Language and Culture.

3 sessions (in sequence)

When: Wednesday, 17 April; Thursday, 18 April; Friday, 19 April  | 4pm–7pm

Where: The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, 125 Mt. Auburn Street, 3rd floor
For more information, visit this link.

To register for all three sessions, visit this link.

Pre-Texts News:

The Pre-Texts workshop on February 26, 2019, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education brought together over twenty policy students, teachers, curators, and more to see how Pre-Texts can be used to help students delve into difficult material. The text used was “Dermatologist-level classification of skin cancer with deep neural networks”, and participants with little background knowledge in this field made book covers on the theme while listening to the text being read aloud.

Read more about the workshop on the Pre-Texts Website.

El viernes 8 de mayo, nuestro Profesional de Seguimiento Julián Ruiz viajó a Rionegro, Antioquia para acompañar el proceso de los 25 servidores públicos de la Subsecretaría de Bienestar Social de dicha ciudad. Estos funcionarios vienen implementando el protocolo con comunidades vulnerables diversas en Rionegro desde hace dos meses. Se certificarán como facilitadores de Pre-textos en Abril. La implementación de Pre-textos con estas comunidades ha sido difícil, pues deben trabajar con bajos niveles de alfabetización y retención de memoria, así como diversas discapacidades cognitivas y físicas, pero son precisamente estas adversidades las que han hecho el trabajo con estos grupos aún más significativo.

Para ver el reporte de este taller, siga el siguiente enlace.

El sábado 9 de marzo Agentes Culturales lideró un taller corto de tres horas con profesores de Alianza Educativa, un organización local que administra varios colegios en Concesión de Bogotá. Fuimos invitados a una sesión de un curso de pedagogía que estos jóvenes maestros están tomando como parte de su entrenamiento. Esperamos que este sea un primer paso para futuras colaboraciones con Alianza Educativa.

From March 18 to 24, 2019, Prof. Doris Sommer facilitated a Pre-Texts workshop at the Instituto de Vivienda de la Ciudad, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The workshop was for the Housing Authority of Buenos Aires who are resettling people – migrants from the interior as well as immigrants from Peru, Paraguay, etc. – from slum dwellings to good housing. Knowing that the moves need cultural innovation, Pre-Texts was invited to be an integral part of the program.

The text that the participants, including leaders from four target neighborhoods, from the National Library, a Foundation, and writers, played with was “The Agony of Rasu-Ñiti.”

Watch a video from the workshop at this link.

Cultural Agents News

On March 14 and 15, 2019, Cultural Agents Initiative in collaboration with Dr. Lisa Wong of HMS hosted the ‘Empathy and/or..:Ways of Caring’ Conference. In four panels- on Civic Culture, Health Care, Ethics, and Technology- 20 distinguished speakers and attendees from diverse fields across the world considered what they meant by empathy in their practice, differences between caring and knowing, along with corollary effects in security, medicine, politics, ethics, education, and the arts.

The conference was preceded by an engaging three-hour session of Pre-Texts, where participants played with an excerpt from the text that forms the intellectual bedrock of Adam Smith’s work- The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). Through theater games, art, conversations and reflections, participants deconstructed the meaning of empathy from Smith’s perspective to the present day.

“As we formed ourselves into a circle, and discussed its functional and symbolic meaning in a pedagogical context, I was struck by the image contained in every Greek column: no single stem of wheat will support much weight; but if bound into a sheaf, it can hold the roof up…”~ David Michalek, Artist and Visiting Lecturer at TDM, Harvard on the discussions on empathy during the Pre-Texts session.

The Cultural Agents Initiative is currently compiling a document of the proceedings.

Academic research, artistic practice, and civic engagement are becoming ever more closely linked. In her Keynote address at the Press Play Conference, Prof. Doris Sommer argued for the productive proximity of creative practice and critical thinking, positing them as essential tools for the achievement of social engagement and transformation.

The Press Play Conference was held on March 28 and 29, 2019 at MACRO (Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Rome), British School At Rome, and MAAM (Museo dell’Altro e dell’Altrove di Metropoliz)

Look back on the Conference proceedings on twitter here.

The Humanities Institute at the University of Texas, Austin, and the Blanton Museum of Art, invited Prof. Doris Sommer of Cultural Agents to facilitate three days of lively engagement with Cultural Agents’ work from April 3 to 6, 2019.
Watch a playful, Pre-Texts rendition of Rapunzel at this link.

Featured News:

‘Arts teaching could become more important than maths in tech-based future’ – Andreas Schleicher, OECD.
“We talk about ‘soft skills’ often as social and emotional skills, and hard skills as about science and maths, but it might be the opposite,” said Andreas Schleicher of OECD as he addressed the Education Select Committee of the UK Parliament. He suggested that “science and maths may become ‘softer’ in future when the need for them decreases due to technology, and the ‘hard skills’ will be “your curiosity, your leadership, your persistence and your resilience”.

Read the article here.

Stories on the move! Short story dispensers gain popularity worldwide
As we celebrated International Children’s Book Day on April 2nd, it was wonderful to read about the short story vending machines being established in Canary Wharf in London this week! These machines will be the first-of-its-kind in the UK, made by French company Short Édition.

“The Canary Wharf Group said it had been prompted to install the machines after new research found that members of the public were not finding time to finish books. The research, which polled 2,000 UK adults, found that 36% had given up on at least one book in the last year due to lack of time, and 30% had not finished a book in over six months.” Read the complete article on this link.

Created in 2011, Short Édition has generated over 19 million readings of works and now has more than 230,000 reader subscribers to its participatory platform,, designed for reading on the move. In 2017, the Prudential Center in Boston, MA, welcomed the first dispenser United States.

We want to take this opportunity to admire and celebrate the work of a wonderful organization we recently heard about!

Circles & Ciphers is a hip-hop infused restorative justice organization led by and for young people impacted by violence. Through art-based peace circles, education, and direct action we collectively heal and work to bring about the abolition of the prison-industrial complex.

Click on the links to follow their work on Facebook and Twitter!


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Caminos de Paz Cases for Culture Cultural Agents Opportunities Partners Pre-Texts Rennaisance Now
March 2, 2019
by Rodriguez