Newsletter, August 2015


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.



  • Campus Conversations 
  • WHEN: September 1, 2015
  • WHERE: Harvard University
  • WHAT: With support from the Cultural Agents Initiative, incoming first-year students at Harvard will have the opportunity to participate in six pilot “Conversations” that will follow the simple Forum Theater format. These sessions will explore themes related to the assigned reading: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World, which raises many issues of deep concern to incoming students.
  • Forum Theater is an interactive approach to problem solving developed by Augusto Boal (Theater of the Oppressed, 1979; Games for Actors and Non-Actors, 1992).


  • Pre-Texts Training for Teaching Fellows and Teaching Assistants from the Romance Languages and Literatures Department
  • WHEN: September 9-11, 2015
  • WHERE: Harvard University
  • WHAT: Teaching Fellows and Teaching Assistants from the Romance Languages and Literatures Department at Harvard will have the opportunity to participate in a Pre-Texts training as part of their orientation. The sessions are part of a collaboration with the Harvard Art Museums that is sponsored by a grant from the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.

General News: Pre-Texts

A number of Pre-Texts workshops and trainings were held this summer, including ones in Uganda, Colombia, and Chile.
Beginning in September, the Cultural Agents Initiative will bring Pre-Texts to more youth from Greater Boston through after-school programs. Check out our next newsletter for more on these local initiatives!

United Somali Youth: Cambridge, MA

The Cultural Agents team continues to host the United Somali Youth summer Pre-Texts program on the Harvard campus. The youth participants have grown increasingly confident in their roles as facilitators, embracing Pre-Texts methods and values such as waiting for everyone to speak and respecting diverse interpretations. Each session, two or three facilitators lead activities based upon excerpts from Dave Eggers’s What is the What, a novel documenting the experiences of a Sudanese war refugee. Students draw directly from the text in order to play a game of charades depicting literary devices, choreograph a dance routine based upon a particular scene, or write a backstory of a secondary character. The group frequently breaks into laughter and applause while watching their peers perform or listen to a thoughtful explanation of an interpretive choice.

Intern Amanda Bennett shares an experience from a recent workshop:As a Pre-Texts facilitator, I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with the USY students and learn how they creatively approach literature. Students created and led an activity today in which participants had to create hashtags or tweets based on the text, which allowed  students to connect with What is the What in a way that seemed relevant to their daily lives.

Parques Educativos: Antioquia, Colombia 

Capacity Leader Pedro Reina-Pérez shares his impressions after leading one of the 4 three-day Pre-Texts workshops that were held in Antioquia, July 14-16:

My workshop was held in Guatapé–one hour away from Medellín–at “El Zócalo,” which is one of the nicest Parques Educativos in Antioquia. Guatapé is practically surrounded by water as it has one of the largest freshwater reservoirs in the country. The people were welcoming and eager to be of service. They were truly warm.

The group was comprised of 30 teachers from all school levels. They were enthusiastic, cheerful, and very committed to their craft. It did not take much time to convince them to jump head-on into the Pre-Texts activities. They were proud of their “paisa” (regional) culture, and expressed it in each activity. Curiosity was one of the traits that characterized their approach to learning. They demanded clarity from us and responded with creativity and originality. 

Music and poetry in all forms stood out from day one. Whether through “trova” music or hip hop the participants were eager to respond to the challenges presented. To our surprise, the group bid Elsa [the co-facilitator] and me farewell with a trova as we stood outside in the sun. It was a personal and gratifying end to our three-day stay in a land bursting with opportunity.


General News: Cultural Agents

Amanda Bennett, SROH (Summer Research Opportunities at Harvard) intern from the University of Alabama
Amanda has been working on a paper that combines her research on salve burial practices, memorials and inequality in education with her co-facilitation of Pre-texts sessions with students from the United Somali Youth summer enrichment program. She recently presented her project “Body Politics: Examining African American Social Invisibility through Slave Burial Practices and the Pre-Texts Reading Program” at the 2015 Leadership Alliance National Symposium, July 24-26.

Kelly McGee, the 2015 SHARP (Summer Humanities and Arts Research Program) intern, is developing a Cultural Agents internship resource for college students:

Over the summer I’ve assembled an online database of internships that offer students the opportunity to integrate the arts into social change projects. The list will be published on the new Pre-Texts website and includes internships with the Cultural Agents team, Pre-Texts programs, and partnering organizations. I’ve also designed publicity material to be circulated through other service organizations on campus and at internship fairs. The hope is that students from a wide range of academic and extracurricular backgrounds will recognize the ability of the arts to promote communication and innovation in challenging social circumstances. In addition, I hope student interns will consider the contributions they can make by providing an interdisciplinary perspective and an optimistic outlook on change.


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Caminos de Paz Cases for Culture Cultural Agents Opportunities Partners Pre-Texts Rennaisance Now
August 1, 2015
by Rodriguez