Newsletter, November 2016



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.



  • Cultural Agents: Why Art?  and Pre-Texts Workshop
  • WHEN: November 3 & 4 | (Lecture) 4:10pm, (Workshop)  8:00am – 4:00pm
  • WHERE: 27 Memorial Drive West, Bethelehem, PA 18015
  • WHAT: Join Professor Doris Sommer for the lecture “Cultural Agents: Why Art?” at the University of Lehigh’s Public Humanities Series, co-sponsored with the Southside Initiative and Literature and Social Justice. A Pre-Texts workshop will be held on the following day.
  • XVI Anual Reunion of BID Group and Civic Society 
  • WHEN: November, 8 & 9 | 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
  • WHERE: Sheraton  Hotel, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
  • WHAT: The Inter-American Development Bank’s mission is  to provide long-term financing for institutional, social, and economic development in Latin America and the Caribbean. It also realizes vanguard investigations and offers political consultation, training, and technical assistance to public and private clients around the region.Professor Doris Sommer will be participating as a panelist in a session dedicated for the topic “The use of innovation and its impact in sustainable development”. She will be speaking about the Pre-Texts methodology and its recent implementation in Nassau, Bahamas in collaboration if IDB for a group of art professors. Sommer will also share Cultural Agents Initiative’s vision for promoting innovation, literacy, and citizenship.

    Professor Doris Sommer will also lead the forum: “Alternatives for Sustainable Growth and Human Capital” from 2:30 pm to 3:20pm. To check out a live transmission of the forum visit:

For the forum website, please visit:
  • Pre-Texts Workshop at Waltham Public Schools 
  • WHEN: November, 14 | 3:30pm – 5:30pm
  • WHERE: High School Library, Waltham Public Schools, MA
  • WHAT: Professor Doris Sommer and her team of Pre-Texts facilitators will lead a training workshop for education leaders of Waltham Public Schools.
  • Language Acts and Worldmaking in Conversation with Cultural Agents
  • WHEN:  November, 18 | 6:30 pm
  • WHERE: Anatomy Lecture Theatre, King’s College London, UK
  • WHAT: Language Acts and Worldmaking is a flagship project funded by the AHRC Open World Research Initiative, which aims to regenerate and transform modern language research and learning by foregrounding language’s power to shape how we live and make our worlds. To mark the launch of Language Acts and Worldmaking, Professor Doris Sommer will discuss her groundbreaking work with Cultural Agents Initiative, which promotes the divergent thinking of arts and humanities in the service of solutions to real life problems. Pre-Texts workshops will also be held at King’s College London and the University of Westminster.
For more details of the project and event schedule, please visit:

General News: Cultural Agents 

“Civic Education is Aesthetics, Necessarily” Lecture at Universidad de Los Andes

On October 3rd, Professor Doris Sommer was visiting the Art History Department at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, just a day after Colombia held a plebiscite to endorse the peace process with  the FARC, and the majority voted ‘No’. It was a very difficult moment for many in Colombia and Professor Sommer pronounced to us these encouraging words:

“If we don’t know how it feels, the political freedom… How are we gonna get that?

The only way to achieve political freedom without sacrificing the objective – that is the human being, -is through an indirect way; with desire. I want to invite you all to be spokesmen, ambassadors and smiths of this desire of achieving a stable and lasting peace.

The human being has a internal civil war: reason, passion, reason, passion. Why don’t we kill ourselves everyday? Why don’t we explode in that internal civil war? Because we are sensible and we have a special function that no one mentions, and those functions are: to Play and to Create.

Without beauty, art and debates, we are in the iron cage of reason, and in there we can die like martyrs. So, the invitation is to achieve big changes through the aesthetic way; the way of beauty, of art and communication; of talking about things that really matter, of saying over what was already said, through Play and Creation.”

– Laura Oliveros,
Cultural Agents Initiative, Harvard University

“Music as a Catalyst for Change”
Cultural Diplomacy Panel

Last Tuesday November 1st, Prof. Doris Sommer, Director of the Cultural Agents Initiative, participated in a panel on Cultural Diplomacy at Berklee College of Music in Boston. This event, organized and guided by mezzo soprano and cultural entrepreneur Carla Dirlikov, also included the participation of the following world-class experts and leaders in the arts: Courtenay Casey, Director of Artistic Planning at National Sawdust; Manuel Bagorro, Artistic Director of the Harare International Festival of the Arts; and David Rothkopf, CEO at the Foreign Policy Group.

As part of the weeklong series on Music as a Catalyst for Change, this insightful conversation explored the role that cultural entrepreneurship plays as an agent for social change today by asking important questions and reflecting on the unique innovative experiences of the panelists. This is how, after offering thought-provoking reflections on the concept of “culture” and its roles in the construction of a truly democratic society, Prof. Sommer explained the vision behind her work with the Cultural Agents Initiative and Pre-Texts. Following these ideas, the panelists also discussed the meaning of “cultural diplomacy” and “cultural IQ”, as well as other professional aspects such as programing socially-committed cultural contents and using the arts to promote human development. Towards the end of this event, all the experts also engaged with the audience members by answering inspiring questions and by offering useful examples on how to become both successful cultural entrepreneurs and engaged artists in today’s interconnected global world.

– Federico Olivieri,
Cultural Agents Initiative, Harvard University

General News: Pre-Texts


Pre-Texts Workshop at University of
Los Andes, Colombia

On October 3, Professor Doris Sommer visited The Art History Department at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, during her visit she made a special workshop with artists, actors, students and teachers of the Art Department, psychologist and engineers. The workshop began at 2:00pm and the central text was “The Letters on the aesthetic education of man” (fragments) by Frederich Schiller. This session was preceded by warm up exercises (based on the work of Augusto Boal) to achieve a safe space that developed trust and cooperation. Then, while the participants began to design covers for the text with recycled cardboard, scissors, glitter, markers and colored paper; one of the participants began to read out loud. The text began to be represented in a theatrical way, fragmented, cropped, pasted, discussed; and between every process the participants answered the question “What did we do?”.

The last activity of the day was a debate. Professor Sommer invited two participants of the group to lead this moment, and they proposed to create a debate of the text by groups. While two groups were discussing, the other groups were drawing to express their agreement or disagreement to the debate and the different positions that were discussed. To close the workshop the participants organised in a circle and expressed their opinions about Pre-texts and the afternoon of cooperation and interaction around the texts of Schiller. The highlight of this moment was when a student gave a drawing to another member of the group to express empathy with his ideas. Although it was part of the activity, no one gave insults or praise to their companions, and this was a very emotional moment that made a big difference.

– Laura Oliveros,

Cultural Agents Initiative, Harvard University

8th Worldwide Meeting on Human Values

On October, the 8th Worldwide Meeting on Human Values took place in Monterrey, Mexico. This year, efforts focused on “Coping Social Crisis With the Value of Justice” with three anchor themes: Social Justice, Fair Economy and Restorative Justice.

Prof. Doris Sommer, director of Cultural Agents Initiative at Harvard University and founder of Pre-Texts methodology, together with Verónica Dávila, director of Pre-Texts Mexico, presented the talk “Pre-Texts model of Educational and Civic Transformation”. The incredible lecture highlights the interconnectedness of art, politics, civility, education, innovation and the importance of cultivating critical thinking in our learning spaces, while simultaneously exposing the Latin American influences that inspired the Pre-Texts methodology.

To view the talk, please click on the Youtube link:

Featured Story

Humanities and Public Value:

“Why a scorecard of quality in the arts is a very bad idea.”

IMAGE SOURCE: Scene from The Record. Maria Baranova | The Conversation

In October, Laboratory Adelaide released an important article on The Conversation examining the impact of instrumentalist metrics versus humanist evaluation on matters of art and culture. Laboratory Adelaide: The Value of Culture is a project designed to develop methodologies for assessing and discussing the value of culture beyond the economic dollar.
Culture Counts, developed in Western Australia by the Department of Culture and the Arts, is a computer dashboard data program, designed to be used across art forms. It is currently being trialed for wider rollout by Arts Council England. Its aim, according to a Manchester-based pilot, is “a sector-led metrics framework to capture the quality and reach of arts and cultural productions”.What is proposed is substantial, serious, and no doubt well-intentioned. Unusually for a government-led measurement scheme, arts practitioners as well as policy experts have helped develop it. Yet we at Laboratory Adelaide – an ARC Linkage research project into culture’s value – view the venture with dismay. We argue that the approach is wrong-headed and open to political abuse.


A quantitative approach to quality betrays naivety about how people look at dashboard data, privileging a master figure or, at best, two or three figures. Context is lost to the viewer, and the more authoritative a number is presumed to be, the more completely it is lost.

The second problem with a metric for artistic quality is the homogeneity of purpose it implies. A theatre in Leeds, an orchestra in London and a gallery in Loughborough not only do different things in different places, their values are different too. They can be compared, but it requires critical assessment not numerical scaling.

A third problem with the approach is the political manipulation it invites. Metrical scores look objective even when reflecting buried assumptions. If a government decides it wants to support (say) “innovation”, different projects can be surreptitiously graded by that criterion and “failures” de-funded. The following year the desideratum might be “excellence” and a different crunch would occur. Supposition is camouflaged by abstraction and the pseudo-neutrality of quantitative presentation.

Arts Council England’s metrics will be expensive. They will demand time, money and attention from resources-strapped cultural organisations who cannot spare them. Is it worth it? This is a vital point. The introduction of a new quantitative indicator should tell us something we didn’t know before. It is not enough to translate verbal descriptions into numbers as a matter of course. There has to be knowledge gained by doing so that we didn’t already have.

If the only answer is “by using numbers we can benchmark cultural projects more easily”, then we have a fourth problem. The incommensurability inherent in concrete instances of creative practice is not something that will be addressed by improving standardized measurement techniques.


More than other areas of life, art and culture are full of outliers and singularities, things that do not fit easily into standardized categories.


Numbers are an important tool for understanding the contemporary world. Used in the right way, they are revealing not reductive.

A metric for artistic quality is a flawed use of numbers, however, replacing what should be judgment of different types of evidence with simplistic figures and their inevitable corollary, ratings and rankings. The widespread adoption of such an approach can only bring harm to the making and curation of culture.

Julian Meyrick
Professor of Creative Arts, Flinders University

Richard Maltby
Executive Dean, Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law, Flinders University

Robert Phiddian
Deputy Dean, School of Humanities, Flinders University

Tully Barnett
Research Fellow, School of Humanities, Flinders University

For the full article, please visit:


Please remember that we have updated our email address to 

For more information on upcoming events, please see our calendar on the Cultural Agents Initiative website:

Copyright © 2015 Cultural Agents Initiative, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
417 Boylston Hall
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA 02138

unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences



This email was sent to <<Email Address>>
why did I get this?    unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences
Cultural Agents · Cultural Agents, Inc. 259 Webster Street, #1 E. Boston, 02128 · Boston, Ma 02128 · USAEmail Marketing Powered by Mailchimp


Cases for Culture Cultural Agents Department of Architecture Doris Sommer Italia Launch Videos Mental Health Opportunities Partners Pre-Texts Rennaisance Now Social Equity
November 2, 2016
by Rodriguez