Monthly Update

September 2016


  • WHEN: Wednesday - Friday, September, 21-23
  • WHERE: Science Center 318, The Bok Community Space, MA
  • WHAT: The Derek Bok Center and Professor Doris Sommer, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, invite faculty and Teaching Fellows to participate in a 3-session workshop to explore the possibilities of Pre-Text training for adaptation in the Harvard classroom. Graduate students who participate in the workshop will be able to count their participation toward one Seminar requirement for a Bok Center Teaching Certificate by doing a follow-up project in their classrooms and meeting with other participants to explore the results. 

To register please visit:

For more information see:



  • WHEN: Friday, September 23 | 7:30pm
  • WHERE: Boston Marriott Burlington, MA
  • WHAT: Pre-Texts is one of the 2016 Finalist Projects of NEACOL's 2nd Annual Gala "Keeping Dreams Alive." The first grant provided by the New England Association for Colombian Children was in 2014, which supported an initiative focused on education and impacted the lives of 270 impoverished Colombian children. Early in 2015, it funded a second project in nutrition that benefited 156 Colombian children and their families. In 2016 NEACOL funded projects such as Social Football , helping more than 100 children, and Learning Under a Roof supporting 50 students directly, and 300 students total.

    Currently, there are four projects nominated for 2016. These include: 

    "Deja tu Huella de Paz" based in Cali and Yumbo (Valle del Cauca), looks to give tools that permit students to strengthen their leadership capacities in order to design and execute projects of social impact in their own context.

    "Lactancia Amor Natural“, based in Medellín (Antioquia), looks to educate mothers in refugee populations about the health and nutritional advantages of breastfeeding, to decrease the levels of malnutrition in the community.

    "Alimentando la esperanza de los niños campesinos", based in Albán (Cundinamarca), looks to improve nutritional safety and increase nutritional coverage in up to 84% of vulnerable children in the rural communities.

    "Pre-Textos" based in Quibdó (Chocó), looks to increase and develop critical reading and reasoning by educating teachers to stimulate reading and writing creativity. This project is under the umbrella of literacy, leadership and civic education.

For more information on previous projects, the event, or register to donate,
please visit: NEACOL

For our full newsletter, see the link below:


August 2016

Artist Imagines A Healthcare System That Doesn’t Fail Women Of Color



“The Waiting Room" at the New Museum in New York is the latest work of artist Simone Leigh. Through this piece she pays tribute to the life of Esmin Elizabeth Green who spent 24 hours in a hospital waiting room expecting to be seen, and collapsed after a blood clot in her leg spread to her lungs. The hospital’s surveillance footage showed hospital’s staff negligence towards her that resulted in her losing her life in the waiting room floor. 

In “The Waiting Room”, Leigh demands that the concerns, roles, and rights of women of color be recognized as central, rather than pushed to the margins. For her exhibition and residency at the New Museum, the artist considers the possibilities of disobedience, desire, and self-determination as they manifest in resistance to an imposed state of deferral and debasement. Whereas discourses of patience, pragmatism, and austerity often underscore political debates surrounding the failures of public health care and related conditions, Leigh finds inspiration in parallel histories of urgency, agency, and intervention within social movements and black communities, past and present. Troubling the notion of separate narratives, she implicates violent, institutionalized control and indifference as the conditions under which forms of self care and social care can become radical or alternative.

Focusing specifically on an expanded notion of medicine, “The Waiting Room” references a wide range of care environments and opportunities—from herbalist apothecaries and muthi[medicine] markets in Durban, South Africa, to meditation rooms and movement studios—and involves a variety of public and private workshops and healing treatments that the artist refers to as “care sessions.” Blurring the distinction between bodily and spiritual health, or between wellness and happiness—and, in doing so, countering the perception of holistic care as a luxury good—Leigh has convened practitioners who view social justice as integral to their work. The all women led “care sessions”, evoke the words of writer and activist Audre Lorde when she wrote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Leigh's installation inaugurates the Department of Education and Public Engagement’s annual R&D Summers, a research and development residency and exhibition program that will foreground the New Museum’s year-round commitment to community partnerships and to public dialogue at the intersection of art and social justice.

“The Waiting Room” is on view until Sept. 18, 2016 at the New Museum in New York. For care sessions and public lectures visit:

For the Huffington Post article see:

For the rest of the news this month and more, please see our newsletter:

July 2016

The City of Boston partners with MassPoetry

During the month of May, in honor of National Poetry Month, the City of Boston collaborated with MassPoetry to bring Raining Poetry to the streets.  By utilising biodegradable water-repellent spray and stencils made by local artists, the city's Mural Crew set out to place poems throughout Boston. The spray vanishes once dry, so the poems were invisible until it rained. Once wet, the area around the poems darkened, and Bostonians were treated to short poems as they walk around the city. Boston's Poet Laureate, Danielle Georges, selected four poems for the initial art installation, including three by Massachusetts poets. With Raining Poetry, the City of Boston and MassPoetry hoped to bring more poetry into the everyday lives of citizens. They are hoping to expand the project to other neighbourhoods throughout Boston, and feature poetry in multiple languages.

For further information see:

For the full overview of the whole month, see July's newsletter:

June 2016

Pre-Texts in Dublin, Ireland

  • When:  Friday, June, 10th | 9:30 am
  • Where: Grangegorman Development Agency, en Greenway Hub, Grangegorman Lower, Dublin 
  • What: Ireland’s community and  higher educational sector is transforming itself through the relocation of the Dublin Institute of Technology from 39 locations into a new inner city urban quarter that was the former St. Brendan’s Hospital in the heart of the capital city. What makes this a fascinating challenge is the close proximity of primary and psychiatric care alongside pioneering institutes in technological higher education. For those living, working, visiting or studying in this emerging and historic urban quarter, challenges and questions abound and are continually shifting – who are we now, what remains important, how do we want to learn and remember, how can we truly engage the complexities of life and living?

Prof. Sommer has been invited to share Pre-Texts – experience, impact and value - amongst an invited audience drawn from the educational, health, arts, sciences and humanities sectors. Hearing of about Sommer’s coming, a recently formed Aesthetics Group affiliated with The Graduate School of Creative Arts and Media requested the opportunity to devise a creative response to her book The Work of Art in the World. This live session going to take place with a focus on Schiller’s writings, and will be linked to a live online discussion with colleagues in Barcelona. And just in case that was not enough, a final presentation will be made by artist Jennie Guy whose initiative: ‘The Master Plan’, an interdisciplinary creative project with young students about change is taking place.

For more information see: 

To see the rest of the events and highlights from this month, see our monthly newsletter below. Don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter at the bottom of the page for monthly updates!

May 2016

Museo Jumex: Carla Fernandez's Exhibition
The Barefoot Designer: A workshop to unlearn
March 23 - May 15 

The Barefoot Designer: A Workshop to Unlearn, a variation on the exhibition originally presented at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 2014, features the work and design philosophy of Carla Fernández, through her exploration of the traditions and techniques from the different indigenous cultures of Mexico. The exhibition contains works inspired in Guerrero, Chiapas, Mexico City, the State of Mexico, Yucatan, and Campeche. Audiences will be introduced to the designer’s techniques as well as to the indigenous communities’ ancestral forms of knowledge through the process-based and workshop components of the exhibition.

Carla Fernández has developed a successful dynamic wherein the fashion industry and the handmade crafts of Mexico become compatible. The driving force of her strategy consists of reinterpreting the complex system of Mexican indigenous clothing through direct cooperation with artisans. She has conducted a research over ten years in which she catalogued hundreds of garment designs, including the Mayan culture, Aztec designs and other pre-Hispanic traditions, some at risk of being lost.

Dialogue about Symbolic Reparations: Antanas Mockus and Marco Abarca

In April we had the privilege to host Antanas Mockus, the former Major of Bogotá and creator of the program "Cultura Ciudadana" and Marcos Abarca, the Costa Rican lawyer expert in Human Rights and author of the program "Aula Verde" in an interesting dialogue about Symbolic Reparations and all the challenges involved in this issue. A group composed by academics, artists, students and researchers (included the reknowned Chilean poet, Raúl Zurita) was engaged in this conversation provoking deep reflections. Within an intimate setting, a beautiful and honest conversation took place, where stories were told, thought challenging questions were asked, and new ideas were conjured.

Implementing UDL through Pre-Texts:
Cultural Agents - Harvard Ed Portal - Boston Public Schools

Since April 6th, a Pre-Texts training workshop has taken place at Harvard Ed Portal with 25 teachers from Boston Public Schools. Here is an input of one of the participants:

The third- and fifth-grade teams at my school are participating in the Pre-Text series of workshops at the Harvard Portal.  I am a special education teacher of 2nd and 3rd graders in Boston, and am interested in adding to my 'bag of tricks' to engage my students in rich content while giving them many opportunities to work with and play with texts.  The Pre-Text workshops are helping me discover ways I can do just that.  I find that the activities we have done in the workshops have been inspiring to me in that they give me a good vision of how to expand on the types of activities we already do in class.  The routines and protocols that we have used as part of 'the Pre-Text way' give opportunities for my students to become empowered to interact with each other and the text.  Incorporating movement, music and art into these activities for Literacy reminds me that these things are actually possible to do on a more regular basis instead of only once in a while.  Since my 3rd grade team has attended these workshops, we have planned for our upcoming Literacy instruction using many of the ideas that were generated during the workshops, so this has been very helpful.  Selfishly, however, I know that there is no budget for schools to purchase materials to use in the creation of projects/products, so I am a bit frustrated that again I will be spending my own $ to buy the stuff I need to do the cool stuff that is Pre-Text.  

- Barbara Reid, 
Guild Elementary

For more photographs of Pre-Texts in Ed Portal, see:

March 2016

Forum Theatre responds to Sexual Assault at Harvard University

"In February, Doris Sommer and Pilar Vicuna from Cultural Agents and I as the Education Specialist for the Graduate and Professional Schools at OSAPR first met to explore how we can put our skills and expertise together to raise awareness about and to prevent sexual assault on campus. Quickly the idea was born to engage students into a Theatre of the Oppressed during SAAM, in which participants have an opportunity to intervene and positively change the dynamic in a scenario acted ‘on stage’. 

Last Friday, Cultural Agents offered a Theatre of the Oppressed facilitator’s training. I happily attended this training, because I wanted to learn how I can integrate forum theatre into my workshops. Our group of nine people, was subdivided into groups of three. Each group came up with its own short play dealing with sexual assault, sexual and gender-harassment, and gender-stereotyping. Every group performed its short play and the other people in the room had an opportunity to intervene, thereby dramatically changing the script and the outcome of the play. Once we went through each of the three plays, we sat down together to de-brief about our interventions and to discuss how forum theatre can be helpful for my work at Harvard. 

How I have experienced forum theatre, its greatest advantage is that it physically, verbally, and emotionally involves the audience if they choose to intervene. This adds a layer to the conventional scenario discussions that I usually offer in my workshops. Simply reading a scenario offers a good opportunity to discuss an intervention. However, workshop participants can easily keep an emotional distance to it. Forum theatre invites workshop participants to be part of the solution and to experience how it feels to intervene verbally or physically (without the use of violence!). 

Forum theatre is fun to participate in! Of course, not everyone has to intervene. This is important for those who consciously decide to keep an emotional distance to the play, which of course is absolutely okay!"

- Maike Isaac, OSAPR, Harvard University

Harvard Extension School: Pre-Texts Workshop in course "Museum as Active Learning Space"


An intensive three-days Pre-Texts workshop took place at Extension School as part of the course Museum as Active Learning Space. The workshop was designed upon the Pre-Texts model to train participants, most of them museum educators and administrators, in the use of art-making as a pedagogical tool to turn museum collections into powerful resources to explore difficult texts. Participants were challenged to think creatively, to play with a complex text as "Cosmos"from Carl Sagan and create their own museum activities to create community and develop an appreciation for art.

During three days a total of 13 people had the opportunity to use the museum space in new ways in order to encourage visitors to get involved with art and intervene their context. From re-acting to painting, expressing through body language or singing, group activities and individual interventions, participants of this Pre-Texts intensive experience learn to imagine creatively, develop citizenship and turn the museum space into resources for approaching a difficult text.

- Thenesoya Martín de la Nuez, doctoral student,
Romances Languages and Literature Department,
Harvard University,

Pre-Texts Workshop in Nassau, Bahamas in alliance with the Inter American Development Bank          

“Large wrap-around verandas at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas provided the expansive setting for the workshop. The participants were mostly young, enthusiastic artists, teachers and community workers.

The workshop moved rhythmically as Doris introduced the concepts of Pre-Texts between warm-up exercises. The primary focus was reading of a text from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, while participants sat at tables and made book covers that responded to the text. Doing while listening, as workers had been doing in tobacco “factories” for almost two centuries. It was a surreal moment with Doris standing on a chair, oratory style, while participants were trying to grasp this collision of mind and body. Then everyone asked a question of the text and “published” it on our clothesline.

The challenge of playing with texts became wonderfully obvious when participant pairs pantomimed a specific line from the text, which required all to scan the chapter to find the right reference. This was both difficult and rewarding, with many Ah-Ha moments.

After a week of engaging in various Pre-Texts dynamics, the workshop ended jubilantly with a group photo and unending photo ops with Doris, and participants modeling the imperial crowns. There was a melancholy feeling as the group dispersed, while knowing they’d be meeting weekly with each other to further their grasp of Pre-Text. Many seemed committed to putting in the fifteen hours of practice to receive their Pre-Text certification.”

- Jay Critchley, artist

For more photographs of Pre-Texts in Nassau, Bahamas, see:

January 2016

Pre-Texts Workshop in Chile

Doris Sommer is leading a Pre-Texts training workshop for the new network of Centros de Creacion – CeCrea – of the Consejo de la Cultura in Chile. One workshop is at the Consejo’s headquarters in Valparaiso; the other is in Coyhaique. Educators in the workshop will implement Pre-Textos in the new Centers during after-school and vacation projects aimed to develop creative skills, citizenship and a love of learning among Chile’s children and youth.

Pre-Texts in Signet Society

On December 11th, Professor Sommer hosted a Pre-Texts workshop at Harvard’s Signet Society. The Signet is acommunity of artists, including undergraduates and faculty members, which serves a setting for conversation and collaboration. Our hope is to expand our organization’s mission to include a service element, and Pre-Texts is the perfect ticket. We are already a group brimming with passion for the arts and the wholehearted belief in their power to educate, enfranchise, and make change. Next semester, we hope to expand our work with Pre-Texts to help foster this enthusiasm in the larger Boston community. The December 11th workshop, during which we engaged in a variety of exercises surrounding a passage from Prometheus Bound, was a lovely introduction to the Pre-Texts approach. All of the Signet members who attended enjoyed themselves and came away with an invigorated enthusiasm for our Signet Service initiative. We look forward to future work with Pre-Texts! 

- Magdalene Zier, Signet Society


"Arts to the Rescue" Fair Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 13: "Cultural Agents", Harvard University

The Cultural Agents' Fair 2015 was held on December 9 in CGIS Knafel Café. More than 30 creative students' projects were presented as part of their final works for the Cultural Agents course leaded by professor Doris Sommer.

Immigration, Environment, Mental Health, Education were some of the problems that students addressed in their projects responding with innovative ideas and new approaches. Each student or team presented their projects and then there was an open space where students asked and dialogued among them.

This Fair put in evidence the students' creativity and concern about today's problems and demonstrated how Arts have a fundamental rol in creating new ideas to face deep and complex issues, challenging us all to become new Cultural Agents.

To see what else happened this month, check out this month's newsletter:
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