Newsletter, November 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.



  • DATES: Saturday, December 2nd, 2017
  • TIMES:  10 am – 5 pm (Lunch will be provided)
  • WHERE: Harvard University, Boylston Hall, Rm. 105, Cambridge, MA 02139


If you’re an MIT or Harvard affiliate interested in joining, please register here. Full participation is mandatory!

General News:
Cultural Agents


Check out our new Pre-Texts website! You can find information about the Pre-Texts protocol, old workshops, and upcoming events.

Pre-Texts is the prize! UNESCO and The Embassy of Canada awarded Colombia this November for its commitment to peacemaking. Within that, they gave special recognition to two schools. The schools will receive Pre-Texts workshops as their prize in early 2018. In addition this, on November 3 and 4, 2017, Doris Sommer gave the keynote address at the El Foro Educativo Nacional, Educación para la Paz (National Education Forum, Education for Peace) in Bogotá, hosted by the Ministry of Education. In her keynote lecture, “Educar es sembrar la paz” (To Educate Is to Sow Peace), Doris discussed the importance of literacy, art, and innovation in citizen formation. Over 1,000 teachers from across Colombia attended the forum, and 100 attendees participated in four Pre-Texts mini-workshops during which they read excerpts from Prometeo Encadenado (Prometheus Unbound).

Read more about her lecture in Spanish here:


While visiting Colombia for the El Foro Educativo Nacional, Doris was interviewed by El Tiempo. In the interview, she discusses a range of topics, including Pre-Texts, Colombian students from El Chocó that visited Harvard this past summer, peace in Colombia, cultural reparations, and the importance of creativity. The following are two short excerpts:

How do both projects [Pre-Texts and the Cultural Agents Foundation] help Colombia? Is there something specific to do with the current peace process in the country?

Peace depends on an equitable and high quality education. Without knowing how to learn and reflect, how are we going to become citizens? Pre-Texts arose as a response to the crisis that confronts young children and teens both in the cognitive abilities related to critical reading and abstract thought and in citizen formation. These are the foundations for the development of any nation. For example, the levels of literacy and education are stable indicators of development in all fields: economics, politics, and psychology. In this crucial moment, as Colombia undertakes a process of constructing a sustainable peace, we need all Colombians to have a high levels of education and literacy. We need citizenship to be understood as admiration for one another and innovation to be developed in a fun way.

What do you think the role of art and culture is in the reconstruction of a country that spent over 50 years in war?

One of the philosophical foundations of Cultural Agents is that humans are creative and consequently know how to resolve difficulties. This observation is the most notable contribution of Friedrich Schiller, a disciple of Kant. If we all return to being artists and propose and create, we will go from passive subjects to citizen co-creators of our own space. If we construct society and mutually admire one another, we can see that there is always something valuable in our neighbor and that every person has interesting ideas. This way, we perceive diversity as an aesthetic value and not as a duty. I am saying that with this, we enjoy differences and admire the other, not just tolerate it. The efficacy of art against violence is its capacity to pause us, astonish us, and make us ask, “What does it mean?” This indirect, seemingly unfocused intervention is precisely the an alternative to direct violence. This, I think, is the role of art and culture in a country that has suffered such violence.

Read the full article here in Spanish:


General News:



Recent Mini Workshops

A group of Brazilian academic leaders from every region traveled to Framingham, MA late October to celebrate the Best of Brazil Cultural Fair. During this educational weekend-long event, they met with representatives from the Brazilian consulate, gave presentations on their respective regions, and participated in a Pre-Texts mini-workshop at Harvard! Enthusiastic and passionate, these 30 academics were quick to see the beauty of Pre-Texts as they read a short excerpt in Portuguese from “Amor” by Clarice Lispector. Co-facilitated by Doris Sommer & Sandra Ferreira, the final activity invited participants to use Brazilian music to dissect the text. Sandra played 5 short song clips, and then participants chose lines in the text that they felt matched the song. At the end of the workshop, one participant commented, “Pre-Texts […] expands our view of the world, of others, of ourselves.”

On Sunday, November 17, Doris led an afternoon mini workshop at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston for museum staff and new Cultural Agents. As a celebration of the new “Henry James & The American Painting” exhibit, the group read the first two paragraphs of Henry James’ The Golden Bowl. A favorite activity of the day encouraged participants to embrace the gallery space as they traveled through the exhibit, searching for paintings that illustrated important elements of the text.

Learn more about the exhibit here:

Featured Story

Jay Critchley, an acclaimed activist artist and long-time Cultural Agents collaborator, spent the fall in residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute. On November 19, he presented his interactive installation, The Whiteness House–Tarred and Feathered.

“The Whiteness House – Tarred and Feathered is a walk-in model of The White House, tarred and feathered. Tarring and feathering is a form of public humiliation and criticism used in feudal Europe and on the American frontier, mostly as a form of mob vengeance. According to Critchley, The White House takes on an ominous presence with a white President who has defined much of his Presidency based on color. Critchley asks “How is whiteness expressed through the White House following the tenure of America’s first black President? Who is getting tarred and feathered? The American people, the rightful owner’s of the White House, or the present tenant, the 45th President of the United States?” By asking these questions, creating an interactive sculptural metaphor, and initiating dialogue around the topic of “whiteness,” Critchley strives to cultivate transformation and redemption, and to heal the great divide growing among We the People.”

Learn more about the installation here:

Learn more about Jay’s other projects here:

Read about W.E.B. Du Bois’ contribution to the 1900 World’s Fair, where he used creative statistical visualizations to portray the African American experience in the United States during the latter half of the nineteenth century.

“How would he make statistics fit for an exhibition and compelling enough to compete for attention with such marvels of invention and showmanship as the talking films, panoramic paintings, escalators, and world’s largest refractor telescope, all of which made their debut at the 1900 Paris Exposition?

He decided to visualize his data in a series of artful, striking diagrams that beckon both the intellect and the imagination, dispelling sociocultural misconceptions with statistics in a viscerally arresting way — a way “to give, in as systematic and compact a form as possible, the history and present condition of a large group of human beings.”

Learn more here

“New Georgetown Protest Mural Takes on Climate Change, South Seattle Air Pollution”

Read about how visual artist Craig Cundiff collaborated with the anti-gasoline organization, Coltura, to create a striking mural about the dangers of pollution.
Read the article here:




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


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Caminos de Paz Cases for Culture Cultural Agents Opportunities Partners Pre-Texts Rennaisance Now
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