A Tour of the Heart Map

Share your story, explore your heart.

Enjoy this video exploration of the HeartMap Project: an interactive, public art installation created by LitWorld resident artist Tina Villadolid in collaboration with Broadway Housing Communities at the Sugar Hill Project.

The above video was shot and editing by Sean McCoy.

Mapping the Heart of a Community: Tina Villadolid, In Her Own Words

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“If you could do something really big for us, what would it be?”

What an honor to be asked this question by Pam Allyn, the founder of LitWorld, in the fall of 2017. It was an opportunity to enact an idea that had taken up residence in my brain: collect data from communities in the form of art, in order to humanize the information. Despite the artistic elements of charts and graphs, their colorful lines, bars, and circles don’t express the stories of the humans that inhabit the statistics. What if the data collected could reveal what we have in common inside our hearts, despite differences in culture, class, age, race, gender, and language?

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The Heart Map Project was launched this past August at the Arab-American Family Support Center in Brooklyn, and at Sugar Hill in Harlem, a Broadway Housing Community. The participants created individual pieces in response to these three workshop themes:

People we love

Places in our heart

Who we are

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Amassing the individual artwork from each workshop to form 3 chambers of the community’s heart, I created a walk-through installation at each of the two sites. The trust that I was given to do so was such a gift (not knowing for certain what a site-specific installation will look like while asking permission to transform a space can be challenging!). It was moving to witness the participants finding their own work in the installation, to listen to the dialogues that began, and to see the bonding that occurred from the shared experience. Visitors to the installations wrote the names of people they love on an anatomical drawing of a human heart, adding it to that chamber and becoming part of it themselves.

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I am an artist and an educator with a “long game” credo.

Humanizing data

Poetic chart

What’s missing from the data?

Making the story visible

Breathing in and out, flow in and out, asks and offers

Maps help us get our bearings of where we are in the world, in life

Atlas of human emotions

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The ongoing collection of 3-D Heart Maps provide visual information that yield another art form: a chart/graph/map that measures the components and commonalities of each community represented. A living visual document is created by the “data” compiled from the hearts of each community, expressed through art. The stories, faces, and spirits become an integral component of informational “data” and “data gaps.” The hope is that this living art form and the visceral response to it may spark an urgency and duty toward increased humanitarianism.

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The heart map expands from an individual exercise into a group collaboration. Inclusive of all genders and generations that are parts of the whole, the 3-D Heart Map explores and reveals what binds a community together at its heart.

Visual storytelling activities build community while creating a unified art piece comprised of many individual parts, a reflection of the group itself.

The heart map expands from an individual exercise into a group collaboration. Inclusive of all genders and generations that are parts of the whole, the 3-D Heart Map explores and reveals what binds a community together at its heart.

Visual storytelling activities build community while creating a unified art piece comprised of many individual parts, a reflection of the group itself.

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Summer Reading Assignment: Read "Middlemarch", Change the World

“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?”

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This blog post is from our Communications Intern, Olivia Luntz, a rising Sophomore at Amherst College. Although she remains a major fan of the Magic Tree House books and attributes her current wisdom to late-night, under-the-covers reading of this series, the book which has most impacted her life to date is George Eliot’s Middlemarch. In this blog post, she will elaborate on how reading Middlemarch has altered her outlook on existing in college, her community, and our world. Her journey with Middlemarch serves both as an example of how much impact reading the right book at the right time can have, and as an embodiment of much of the work LitWorld does around the world. Additionally, Olivia will also identify, in her opinion, the 750 most important words of the 316,059 word novel.

In December of 1871, George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Anne Evans) published the first volume of what would become her most popular and well-known novel, Middlemarch. In September of 2017, on my first day of college, I listened as my professor read aloud the novel’s Prelude. In it Eliot waxes about the “blundering lives” of “later-born [Saint] Theresas”: women whose passion and beliefs could have altered history, but because of time or circumstance were unable to accomplish a “long-recognizable deed”. After that class, for the first few months of my college career, my increasingly worn copy of Middlemarch was my most constant companion. I could be spotted with my face hidden within its pages in every building on campus, and more often than I wished, while speed-walking to English class. The more time I spent with my face in-between the novel’s covers, the more I felt that it was looking back at me, into my head, picking apart the stereotypical anxieties and doubts of a freshly-minted college student. Although I had arrived at college relatively assured in myself and in my abilities, I was shocked upon getting to know my peers at what they had already accomplished, and what they were sure they would accomplish in the future. I felt as if I was a later-born Theresa, destined to live my life floundering because I had not found a great calling by the time I was eighteen. Thankfully, however, this is not the lesson that Middlemarch taught me; rather Middlemarch showed me that the value of a life is not defined by fame or one colossal achievement, but rather by the small acts of kindness and the effects of these acts on others.

Everyone deserves to have a moment in which reading a book feels akin to looking in a mirror. It is so easy to feel isolated in the world and in your experience, and what a comfort it is to discover that someone else has walked a similar path to yours, and that they have left a trail. It also serves as a great reminder to step out of yourself and see how similar your life is to others, rather than how different. This summer, I have been so lucky to be a part of the work LitWorld is doing to make it possible for kids everywhere to share their stories and hear the stories of others, including kids right here in New York City. My summer experience has not only given me a chance to help give kids access to their own literary experiences, but has also furthered my belief in the importance of small acts. Overcoming illiteracy or the barriers that prevent girls from receiving an education are imposing tasks, but this does not mean that we should not work towards them. Every step toward this goal is valuable as it is a step in the direction of a better world. Every time a child is given the opportunity to read, write, and create, that child’s world is transformed, and the world we all share is changed as well. Seeing the kind and wonderful people at LitWorld work every day toward bettering children’s lives has given me so much hope for the world these children will one day shape.

However, our world today is still one that is increasingly tumultuous, confusing and terrifying. Accordingly, I believe the lessons and philosophy within Middlemarch are more relevant than ever, however, I recognize that advocating for small acts and then encouraging you to read an 850-page book seems hypocritical. Therefore, I propose an easier reading assignment: the novel’s Prelude and the last two paragraphs of the Finale, three pages, 750 words total. I have chosen this excerpt from Middlemarch to share with you because it perfectly demonstrates the shift in belief that the novel’s unknown narrator and its protagonist, Dorothea, experience in who exactly it is that impacts our world. In the Prelude, the narrator portrays the lives of those “Theresas” who do not reach a world-altering accomplishment as pathetic and pitiful, “sob[bing] after an unattained goodness”. However, as the novel progresses this depiction is altered because of Dorothea, the novel’s own “Theresa”. At the start of the novel, Dorothea is an aspirational, but slightly naive, young woman, who strives to reform the cottages of the poor. She eventually marries the much older Reverend Edward Casaubon, with the goal of helping him finally complete his interminable research project. Unfortunately, the marriage ends up being a colossal failure, with Casaubon dying with his research unfinished, and Dorothea left directionless without a project that she thinks will contribute to the greater good. However, the novel’s Finale stresses that Dorothea’s eventual fate of remarrying for love and living as a wife and mother is not a failure because it will not be immortalized, but is rather just as important as the life of famous figures. In the last sentence of the novel the narrator states: “But the effect of [Dorothea] on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

This last line, taken in the context of the Prelude, has been the one that has most often come to my mind since finishing Middlemarch. After months of opening my phone to news of another unthinkable tragedy: school shootings, mothers torn away from their children at the border, natural disasters and war leaving families homeless; it can be easy to react to more bad news with anger and apathy. I have thought to myself many times that I am powerless against the seemingly unstoppable tide of hatred and ignorance flooding our world. But in times of hopelessness, I am reminded of Eliot’s belief in the “many Dorotheas”, people whose lives and accomplishments were not eternalized, but have still made our world a better one to live in. I have realized that I do not have to make history, but rather, the small positive acts I accomplish will multiply and spread, and mix with the acts of others. Like wildflowers that will grow and propagate over the course of a spring, we all only need to plant one seed to have a garden bloom. I think back to the time I spent my first semester, sitting in the library, half-heartedly attempting to write an essay, and how I felt that I was accomplishing nothing. I wish I had looked and seen how the world was changing all around me: there were people reading to children, or hiding Easter eggs filled with candy in the stacks for students to come across, or helping their friends solve a physics problem. I similarly wish I had been able to see myself: walking to town to pick up surprise Insomnia Cookies for my roommate, helping my classmates find books for their research projects, talking long into the night with an old friend, and see how in all of these small actions, I was making the world better. We have all have the opportunity to make our world a better one to live in, all we have to do is recognize the power we have. Make a conscious effort to help others, encourage those around you to do the same, and celebrate those who make your life an easier one to live.

Dorothea reminds me to follow this advice and strive to improve the lives of those around me. To remain hopeful and see the positives in trying circumstances. To revel in small victories, knowing that individual acts of kindness and compassion, taken together, change our world. As Dorothea said, “what do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?” Coming to work at LitWorld and being greeted with new photos from our partners of children all over the world reading, learning, smiling, and laughing, never fails to fill my heart with joy and gratitude, as I realize that I am adding to the “growing good” of our world. The best and most memorable experiences I have had this summer have been when I had the opportunity to see the impact of LitWorld first-hand in the LitCamp held at PS 257 in Brooklyn. There I talked to children about stories they had written about friendship was amazed by both the touching and heartfelt stories the children told me about their sisters and cousins, but also the pride they had in what they had written. I listened to the LitCamp teachers about how they had seen their students' passion for reading, confidence, and curiosity blossom this summer, and I was in awe of the dedication I saw they had for their students and their success. When these children share their stories and when their teachers give them the confidence to do so, they are bettering the world, and by being there to listen, so am I. And if we all work with positive intentions and put our efforts toward improving the lives of others, we can all change the world.


What reading experiences have impacted your worldview? What books have taken you months to finish but were well worth it? I invite you to participate in my Middlemarch reading assignment here and write to LitWorld to share with us a reading assignment of your own creation!

Filling in The Cracks: An Interview with Brooklyn Museum Assistant Curator Carmen Hermo

Our Communications Intern, Olivia Luntz, recently had the opportunity to speak with Carmen Hermo, Assistant Curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, about art being used to tell stories words cannot.

 Carmen Hermo leading a tour of  Radical Women  for members of the LitWorld community on June 7 at the Brooklyn Museum

Carmen Hermo leading a tour of Radical Women for members of the LitWorld community on June 7 at the Brooklyn Museum

On June 7, members of the LitWorld community visited the Brooklyn Museum for a private tour of the exhibition, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985, led by Carmen Hermo, co-organizer of the Brooklyn presentation and Assistant Curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. This exhibition is the culmination of a decade of research by curators Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta into experimental art created by female Latin American artists. The pair traveled throughout Latin America extensively, talking with artists and exploring their studios, before presenting the collection of over 260 works made by 123 artists in 15 different countries. The exhibition was first displayed at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and after its stay inside the Brooklyn Museum, it will travel to the Pinacoteca de São Paulo, in São Paulo, Brazil.

Hermo was excited to work with the LitWorld community because our mission to empower children to share their stories resonated with her, both as someone who developed a dedicated love of reading as a child and as a museum curator who helps artists share their stories every day. She also especially appreciated  LitWorld’s focus on helping girls and young women find access to education, and felt that the messages within the Radical Women exhibition and LitWorld’s mission fit together perfectly. Hermo stated that the purpose of the exhibition was to push back against the dearth of women artists on display at museums and the lack of acknowledgment for avant-garde art created by women. Hermo summed up the exhibition’s message as, “we should always be questioning, learning, and reevaluating history to see who was left out and whose stories we want to tell.”

Although some of the artists on display are already well-known, such as sculptor Lygia Pape and conceptual artist Marta Minujín, many others are significantly less prominent. However, Hermo stressed that she admired these lesser-known artists for making art without an outcome of money or fame, but out of a need to make work that pushed against the oppression and injustice in their world. She also emphasized the bravery of these women who made art during difficult and dangerous political times, and how their courage and strength is what made them “radical.”

 LitWorld community members at the  Radical Women  exhibition

LitWorld community members at the Radical Women exhibition

One of Hermo’s favorite pieces in the exhibition is the video of Victoria Santa Cruz performing her poem Me gritaron negra (They shouted black at me). In the poem, Cruz, an Afro-Peruvian artist, recounts her first encounter with racism at age seven, and turns a racial slur that was used against her into a statement of empowerment. Hermo also saw this piece as an important one to share on the LitWorld tour because of the confidence and strength with which Cruz told her story and how she used poetry to create a non-traditional “self-portrait.”

However, Hermo does not believe that one has to use words to tell their story. Rather, she explained that art has a unique ability to allow viewers to, “enter into one artist's experience, which then opens a door in ourselves to our own experiences.” She continued, saying, “even if you have had a completely different life than that of the artist, the art allows us to recognize the universality of the human experience...art can fill in the cracks of our understanding.”

At LitWorld, our mission is to provide children with the confidence and strength to share their stories and author their own lives. LitKids in our programs are encouraged to utilize a variety of creative outlets to showcase their feelings, dreams, cultures, and communities through stories, poems, art, and more. Exhibits like Radical Women demonstrate how education and literacy can result in positive change and extraordinary art in communities around the world.

We are grateful to Carmen for offering her time to share a bit of her world and the world of radical women with us.

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Carmen Hermo

Carmen Hermo joined the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art’s curatorial team as Assistant Curator in June 2016. She curated Roots of "The Dinner Party": History in the Making (2017), co-organized Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty (2016–17) and the Brooklyn presentation of Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985 (2018), and assisted with initiatives for the 10th anniversary of the Sackler Center, A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum. Carmen also works to support the permanent collection and serves on the Council for Feminist Art and Young Leadership Council patron groups.

The Power of Story: An Interview with Men’s Story Project Founder Dr. Jocelyn Lehrer

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Our Storytelling & Advocacy Coordinator had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Jocelyn Lehrer, founder of the Men's Story Project, about her fascinating work and the power of stories to empower individuals and create positive change in communities.

When Jocelyn Lehrer organized the first live Men’s Story Project production in the summer of 2008 in Berkeley, CA, she wasn’t sure what to expect. “As we were planning it, some people asked us, ‘Why do we need a project about men’s stories? All of history is about men.’ The answer is straightforward: to dismantle patriarchal norms and structures, men have to take a public stand for healthy masculinities, gender equality and social justice—and an important part of that is sharing their own stories that are less often heard,” Lehrer said.

“That first night,” Lehrer continued, “sixteen men stood on a public stage and shared deeply personal stories that challenged and explored notions of masculinity through the lens of their own life experience. The place was packed - standing room only and people sitting on the floor - and the storytellers received a long, loud standing ovation. Afterward, many audience members told me, ‘This is revolutionary and healing, and needs to happen all over the planet.’ The audience and presenter feedback showed me we were on to something, and I brought the MSP into my postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of California-San Francisco Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, to do an evaluation study of it and further develop the project.”

Lehrer emphasized that the need for initiatives to help dismantle harmful notions of manhood is great. “Social ideas about masculinity are like the elephant in the room that people don't even see. It is still uncommon to see critical public dialogue on how boys and men are socialized to be ‘men.’ The goal of the Men’s Story Project is to help shift social notions of masculinity around the world so they’re supportive of health and justice for all people. This will help prevent many forms of pain and suffering, including men’s violence against women, violence between men, homophobia, transphobia, HIV/AIDS, structural gender inequality, etc. The topic of male gender norms is a public health and social justice issue, and there’s an urgent need to work on it. ”

“Men and boys must be part of creating a more equitable world—their participation is essential to dismantling inequitable, oppressive systems.”

Since that first night in 2008, there have been 17 live MSP presentations and two films in the US and Chile, and several productions are in progress in the US, UK, Canada and South Africa. “Groups and organizations anywhere in the world are invited to create their own MSP productions,” explained Lehrer, “and the Men’s Story Project provides tools and training to help them do so.”

“It starts with an open call for submissions in a community, or by working with a pre-existing group of men (e.g., a fatherhood group). On college campuses, production teams hold a launch event to generate interest, and have one-on-one conversations with prospective storytellers who want to know more about the project. Once the group of presenters is formed, the presenters go through a 6-8 week group process to hone their stories and discuss the topics addressed in their pieces. They learn together and build community.”

The MSP intentionally creates platforms for diverse men to share their stories. As an example, Lehrer notes: “In Chile, there was a radical coming-together of men of diverse walks of life. Some were celebrities, some were community leaders, some had never spoken publicly, some had aspects of their lives or identities that were marginalized or stigmatized in society. Some had more power and social privilege than others, but they all took a public stand in solidarity together - literally shoulder-to-shoulder - for healthy masculinities and social justice in Chile.”

At each live event, the presenters’ story-sharing is followed by a facilitated audience-presenter dialogue, where audience members can ask questions and share their own reflections. Lehrer noted, “Audience members have told us how they brought the discussion to people in their social networks after seeing it. The experience inspires people to discuss what they’ve seen and heard with their friends, family members, colleagues, mentees, guys in their dorms, etc.”

The live events are also accompanied by a staffed resource fair where people can connect with personal support and activism opportunities. Once the live events have taken place, Lehrer helps the production team think about how they can keep the community going, in the form of a Men’s Story Project Collective, integration with other existing initiatives, or other ongoing group for learning, activism, and social connection.

“I’d like for the Men’s Story Project to spread widely around the world,” said Lehrer, “I’d like for the MSP to help make it normal for men and boys to critically look at and discuss gender norms in their social contexts – and, if they find things that are problematic, work to change them. I’d like to make it normal for boys and men to take a stand in helping create social justice and equity. I’d like to see celebrities and other opinion leaders get involved.”

Lehrer attributes the success of the project to its grassroots focus. “A strength of the project is that it’s locally-created and locally-relevant, so it speaks to the local issues and needs in a community. Local directors are encouraged to ask: ‘What are the key issues at the nexus of male norms, health, and social justice in this community? What topics need to be addressed, and whose stories and voices do we want to help amplify?’”

With regard to story-coaching, Lehrer notes: “It’s important for the audience to hear about how people have gone from A to B – not just that they did it. It’s important to hear how and why someone embarked on a journey of change, how and why someone intervened to stop harmful behavior, etc. It’s also important for people to see men overtly take responsibility for their harmful actions, regardless of the gender norms they grew up with.”

Lehrer emphasized the accessibility of the project. Any group can create an MSP production, and she is also happy to support groups interested in creating public story-sharing productions with people of all genders. MSP training resources, training and consultation are readily available. One can learn more at www.mensstoryproject.org. Lehrer and the MSP can be contacted directly at jlehrer@mensstoryproject.org, or on Twitter at @mensstoryproj and @josielehrer.

       Dr. Jocelyn Lehrer

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Jocelyn Lehrer, ScD is the Founder/Director of the Men’s Story Project and affiliated Senior Research Associate at the University of California-San Francisco Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. Lehrer’s work focuses on the prevention of gender-based violence (GBV) and HIV/AIDS, and the promotion of healthy masculinities and gender equality. Her first-authored research has been published in leading journals including Pediatrics, Archives of Sexual Behavior and Journal of Adolescent Health. Her applied work includes serving as a Senior Gender Advisor at the USAID Office of HIV/AIDS; working to integrate GBV and HIV response in Guyana; leading HIV/GBV monitoring and evaluation projects in East Africa, and facilitating support groups for women and LGBT youth who are living with HIV/AIDS. Lehrer has consulted with organizations including San Francisco Women Against Rape and World Vision International. Her awards include the UCSF Chancellor’s Award for Public Service, and her work has been highlighted in media including CNN and Forbes.com. Lehrer holds a doctoral degree from the Harvard School of Public Health. She is Chilean-American and a native Spanish speaker.