Newsletter, October 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.



  • Civic Education is Aesthetics, Necessarily

  • WHEN: Monday, October 3rd |  8:00 am – 9:30 am
  • WHERE: University of Los Andes, Building TX, Room 601
  • WHAT: The initiative that professor Doris Sommer congregates is a web of academics, artists, educators and organizers that work for the arts, humanities and social sciences to be recognized as resources for social and educational development. In that way, the talk Civic Education is Aesthetics, Necessarily, presents a program of investigation based in the arts for the development of critical thinking and citizenship.
  • Pre-Texts Workshop at University of Los Andes, Colombia 
  • WHEN: Monday, October 3rd |  2:00 pm – 6:00 pm
  • WHERE: University of Los Andes, Building TX, Room 601
  • WHAT: After the talk Civic Education is Aesthetics, Necessarily, professor Doris Sommer will lead a Pre-Texts workshop that will enrich attendees’ work in the fields of education, the arts and humanities.
  • Implementing UDL through Pre-Texts at Harvard Ed Portal 
  • WHEN: October 3rd, 17th & 24th | 4:00-6:30pm
  • WHERE: Harvard Ed Portal, 224 Western Avenue, Allston
  • WHAT: A five-week professional development for 4th grade Boston Public Schoolteachers with Professor Doris Sommer, and then led by Trecia Reavis, Pre-Texts facilitator and weaver; Hilary Shea, Inclusion Specialist in the Boston Public Schools; and Paul Tritter, Boston Teachers Union, Director of Professional Learning.*Training enrollment has already closed.*
  • “Tinker User Tracer Human” lecture series by the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology
  • WHEN: See flyer for dates. | 6:00-8:00pm
  • WHERE: ACT cube, 20 Ames St., Cambridge, MA
  • WHAT: ACT’s Monday night lecture series draw together artists, scholars, and other cultural practitioners from different disciplines to discuss artistic methodologies and forms of inquiry at the intersection of art, architecture, science, and technology.For more information on the lecture series, visit:

General News: Cultural Agents 

Vehicle of Massive Instruction at Medellin’s Book and Culture Festival

[On September 18th,] the Book and Culture Festival of Medellin came to a close. Catalina and I participated in a project inspired by Raul Lemesoff’s “Weapons of Mass Instruction”, which [Doris Sommer] showed us.

Our project, “Vehicle of Mass Instruction”, consisted in taking to the Festival a car that at a certain moment had represented the war, but which now carried books to lend those who passed by. We had the Army’s support, which facilitated two of their soldiers who were in charge of attracting different spectators and participants towards the Vehicle during the weeklong festival.  In addition to the Army, we also received support from Medellin’s Secretariat of Education, who helped us find many books and diffuse the project.

The “Vehicle of Mass Instruction” was a total success! People got close, grabbed books, [and] took photographs. The Secretariat of Education and the Army were pleased, and we were even featured on television! Even though the Book and Culture Festival of Medellin came to an end, the project allowed a strengthening of relations between the Army and the Secretariat of Education to begin to work together towards the city’s education.

Catalina and I want to extend to [Doris Sommer] a special acknowledgement and gratitude for having brought us the inspiration, and want to let you know that our desire of working with you continues. The “Vehicle of Mass Instruction” was the first of many projects to come.

– Luisa Gomez Angel & Catalina Roa Beuth

General News: Pre-Texts


Pre-Texts at the Derek Bok Center,
Harvard University

From September 21 – 23, multiple graduate students and professionals from different fields came together at Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning to rediscover learning through play. The three-day workshop not only provided an introduction into the workings of the Pre-Texts methodology, but it also created a space for critical thinking about how and why we learn. Through a series of warm ups, creative dynamics, artistic responses, and process reflection, attendees were able to experience profound curiosity with a literary work and explore ways in which civic engagement can be fostered among students. Participants also had the chance to come up with their own ideas of how to interact with the text and the opportunity of facilitating their initiatives with the group.  Many of those who attended these activities were left inspired in how there are a myriad of innovative ways to bring literary works to life and create a respectful environment where everyone’s voice is valued. Pre-Texts reminded us that learning should be fun, and that the key for encouraging literacy is igniting our imagination!    
– Stephanie Soler
Intern at Cultural Agents Initiative, Harvard University

For more photographs and videos of this workshop, please visit:

Pre-Texts in University of Conneticut


The Connecticut Writing Project hosted Pre-Texts workshops facilitated by Professor Doris Sommer on September 30th at the University of Connecticut. Around 30 professionals associated with the University and other state higher education centers attended the two workshops to learn to develop high order literacy and citizenship by using complex texts as prompts for creating artistic responses.

Featured Story

Coltura is using street clowning to criticize U.S. reliance on gasoline


[After an epiphany three years ago], trial attorney Matthew Metz is doing what folks with a social cause have done for hundreds of years, from commedia dell’arte in 16th-century Italy to Colombian Mayor Antanas Mockus in the 1990s: Metz is making street theatre.

Street comedy, Metz said, is “different from a carbon tax — I’m not opposed to that, but it’s trying to control behavior with external motivations instead of trying to get at what’s inside of people and promote good citizenship.”

This fall, Metz’s company, Coltura, is making street-clowning, commedia dell’arte-style performances across Seattle at gas stations and public events with two main characters — the “gas ghosts,” who love gasoline and chase cars to suck up their exhaust, and the “carbon cops,” who Metz describes as “the straight man” in Coltura’s mime-comedy, who “try to keep the ghosts in line.”

The Coltura performances come at a moment when Washington tribal members — from the Yakama Nation, the Lummi Nation, the Hoh Tribe and others — have traveled to North Dakota to join the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in an occupation of ancestral lands during a legal battle with Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over building an oil pipeline through Sioux territory. More than 1,500 people from 150 tribes have joined the occupation so far.

Metz said one of his main inspirations for Coltura street performances was Mockus, the Colombian mathematician who was twice elected mayor of Bogotá. Mockus made international news when he won on a platform of raising taxes and subsequently reduced the city’s homicide rate (by 70 percent) and traffic fatalities (by 50 percent) using radically unconventional methods: He famously enlisted 420 mimes to mock drivers who blasted through crosswalks. “Sometimes you have to speak in the future perfect tense,” Mockus told the Guardian in 2013, “knowing you will not win.”

Metz, whose wife is from Colombia, said there is a saying in that country: “When all else fails, send in the clowns.”

“This climate situation is so stuck that we’re sending in the clowns — trying to take a playful approach,” Metz said. “And we think that people can be reached, in terms of their values, with finesse and fun and in a non-accusatory way […] That’s where the art comes in — to redefine the question … There’s talk about ‘cultural acupuncture.’ If you hit just the right spot in the culture, it can inspire radical change. The protest, I understand. But people are able to affect social change in other ways, too.”

For the full Seattle Times article see: |  For more information on Coltura visit:

 Pre-Texts Short Documentary

In March 2016, Professor Doris Sommer,  human rights lawyer Marco Abarca, and artist Jay Critchley, collaborated with the Inter American Development Bank to host a Pre-Texts workshop in Nassau (Bahamas). This four-day intensive training, held within the beautiful wrap-around verandas of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, bloomed with creativity. Critchley recorded a glimpse of the unforgettable  experiences lived during Pre-Texts workshops in a short documentary.

To view the film, clink on the Vimeo link and type in the code: ‘pretexts’.

We hope you enjoy it!


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

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