Have You Heard? - WorldCanvass shares insights on global issues through music, dialogue

The rich baritone voice of Stephen Swanson resonated through the Old Capitol Senate Chamber while David Gompper’s fingers flew across the piano in a powerful accompaniment. The professors of music shared war songs that mesmerized and moved the audience.

This was no regular musical performance, however. Rather, it was the inaugural program of WorldCanvass, a new University of Iowa International Programs radio and television program that focuses on topics international in scope through a discussion of culture, history, literature, language, politics, and art. (The program debuted as WorldWays, but has since been renamed.)

Swanson and Gompper were two of more than a dozen guests who participated in the Nov. 13 debut program that focused on human rights issues and coincided with the 10th anniversary celebration of the UI Center for Human Rights (UICHR).

The two-hour program was produced before a live, standing-room-only audience of more than 150 people, including everyone from community members and professors decked out in suits to students in sweat suits and sneakers.

Joan Kjaer, whose voice is familiar to Iowans from her former Iowa Public Radio series Know the Score, hosts the program, which takes place one Friday a month from 5 to 7 p.m. and is recorded for later broadcast over UITV and KRUI Radio. Live streaming is also available at the International Programs web site, http://international.uiowa.edu, during each program, and all programs are free and open to the public.

In addition, the audio content is available at the Public Radio Exchange, an online marketplace for public radio programs, at www.prx.org. A free sign-up is required and grants listeners access to the audio pieces.

“In embracing the theme of the evening, we decided to have music,” Kjaer said as she introduced Swanson and Gompper. “Music relates to everything we do in our lives, and certainly to human rights.”

The songs they performed were from a compact disc titled Was My Brother in the Battle? Songs of War.

“The CD came as a direct reaction to the publicity and buildup to Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said Swanson, who perched on a stool and chatted with Kjaer in front of the rapt audience. “I was tremendously disturbed by what appeared to me the trivializing of calling our military forces to war.”

Swanson said he also had recently talked with his sister-in-law, whose late husband had been a nose gunner in World War II—flying bombing raids from England to Germany—and who came back with no physical damage and became a successful businessman.

“But what nobody knew was that for his entire life after his service in World War II, not a single week went by when he didn’t wake up either sobbing or screaming,” Swanson said. He added that as the U.S. was preparing to go to war in Iraq, a variety of other viewpoints that opposed the war were “shouted down.”

“You can at least go into music and present another side of warfare,” Swanson added.

WorldCanvass provides that venue for provocative perspectives and voices to be shared and explored.

“Iowans are interested in what happens around the world, at least partly because what happens elsewhere affects us here at home,” Kjaer says. “The vision is to bring intelligent and interesting people out of the classroom, their compelling ideas and the projects they work on, all of them related to our interconnected world, and to put them into an enjoyable atmosphere where people from many different disciplines can join together around a common theme.”

Other guests on the debut show included Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and recipient of the 2009 Courage of Conviction Award from the UICHR, in conversation with former UICHR director Burns Weston about current international human rights issues.

There also was a discussion of the Philippine Reservation at the 1904 World’s Fair and a conversation with young human rights professionals about their current work in areas such as human trafficking, immigration, and child labor. The program culminated with a tribute to the late Ignacio Ponseti, professor emeritus of orthopaedics, and his groundbreaking work to develop a non-surgical correction for clubfoot.

A Dec. 11 program focused on Africa. Future themes will include include “Taping the World” (Jan. 22) and geographic focal points including India (Feb. 12), Asia (March 5), and Latin America (April 9). Kjaer hopes to extend the program through the summer and produce 12 episodes annually.

She adds that staff of KUT 90.50 FM, a public radio station at the University of Texas in Austin, contacted her three days after the program debuted, seeking to air it on KUT in a show they planned to premier in December.

“We’re thrilled that listeners of KUT in Austin, and those all over the world who listen to KUT’s web stream, are now able to enjoy the great content we’re producing at The University of Iowa and we hope other public radio stations will be interested in it as well,” Kjaer says.

Kjaer hopes that WorldCanvass will continue to bring together scholars, researchers, artists, musicians, and innovative thinkers from all parts of the UI campus and beyond to make a substantial contribution to public discourse. She also vows that she will strive to both educate and entertain listeners and viewers in accessible language, without “dumbing down” or dodging tough topics.

“If we can shine a little light on some of the great stuff that lies buried within departments and if we can create an entertaining and educational program out of meaty topics, then hopefully we’ve opened some doors and made a difference,” Kjaer says.

Lois J. Gray
with photo by Kirk Murray

WorldCanvass is a production of International Programs at The University of Iowa in partnership with the University of Iowa Pentacrest Museums, UITV, and KRUI.

More information about upcoming programs can be found at http://accents.international.uiowa.edu/worldcanvass.

Kjaer welcomes ideas for future programs and can be reached at joan-kjaer@uiowa.edu or at 319-335-2026.

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© The University of Iowa 2009