For over a decade, Joan Kjaer, host of the International Programs show WorldCanvass, has brought scholars, experts, community members, and thought leaders together before a live audience to discuss questions and issues of the day from a wide range of perspectives. WorldCanvass, now in its 14th season, is celebrating the release of its 100th program. This impressive audio archive can be found on Apple Podcasts and on the Public Radio Exchange (PRX).
In 2009, when WorldCanvass was conceived, President Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States of America, Albania and Croatia joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Swine Flu (H1N1) was named a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, and the New York Yankees won the World Series. The world was an expanding place and more connected than ever before with smartphones, Facebook, and Twitter growing in popularity. On the University of Iowa campus, Kjaer was shifting her career at the university, stepping away from the UI’s public radio stations (part of Iowa Public Radio) after decades of service in the radio industry and beginning work in International Programs (IP) to help connect the world with Iowa and Iowa with the world.
“When I joined International Programs, I saw all of the extraordinary work UI faculty and students were engaged in around the world and felt certain that a public program featuring UI researchers and thought leaders, not to mention students and internationally recognized experts, would draw community interest and expand the public’s knowledge of the UI’s global engagement,” said Kjaer. “I proposed the creation of the program we now know as WorldCanvass to the IP dean, and he was fully on board. And the greatest thrill came when UI faculty, staff, researchers, and students eagerly embraced the idea of conversing about their specialties before a public audience.”
The first WorldCanvass program launched in November 2009, with a focus on human rights featuring, among others, Burns Weston, professor of international law; Ramon Lim, retired neurologist; and Pamela White, former director of the University of Iowa Pentacrest and art museums. Over the years, topics have varied in breadth and discipline, ranging from "Globalization and the World Economy," to the "Social Impact of Sustainability," to "Teaching Anne Frank."
“Among the most memorable programs we’ve done over the years was in the UI Old Capitol Museum Senate Chamber in December 2016, just a couple of weeks after the presidential election,” said Kjaer. “The topic of that program, which had been planned long before, was 'White Privilege, Structural Racism, and the Dream of America,’ a weighty topic under any circumstance, but especially so in that tense political moment. The Senate Chamber was overflowing with audience members, and some stood in the outer hallway to hear the discussion. After the program, we had inquiries from several schools in Iowa asking whether various panelists from the show would be willing to come to speak in their classrooms and help their students work through their questions about white privilege and structural racism. That had never happened to us before, and it confirmed our relevance to the larger Iowa community. Even now, six years later, the recording of that WorldCanvass remains the most often requested from our archive.”
WorldCanvass programs are frequently rebroadcast by public radio stations in the U.S. who discover the programs on PRX. And UI faculty may choose to include WorldCanvass discussions as part of their course syllabi, encourage students to attend in-person discussions, and/or revisit past programs via Apple Podcasts.
“WorldCanvass can be the gateway into a subject one is only beginning to learn about or a path toward deeper understanding. Our programs shed light on critical issues that are international in nature and relevant to our lived experience here in the U.S. and Iowa,” shared Kjaer. “WorldCanvass is produced by International Programs in collaboration with colleagues from every UI college and discipline, and each program features consequential debate and deep reflection from the UI’s best minds as well as nationally and internationally recognized experts. The fact that the discussion is conversational and relaxed, without reliance upon esoteric jargon, welcomes the listener and allows for a level of comfort even when the topic is unfamiliar.”
The 2022-2023 season of WorldCanvass brings with it the 100th podcast episode published on Apple Podcasts, “2022 International Impact Award and Global Student Awards,” a kick-off to the UI’s celebration of International Education Week and honoring the international accomplishments of Andy Code, Ryann Hubbart, and Frankline Matanji.
“For a long time both WorldCanvass and Joan have been the public face of what we do in International Programs,” said Doug Lee, assistant provost of International Programs. “Through WorldCanvass we are able to share many of the things we do with a broad audience, both on-campus and well beyond. For 100 episodes now, we are truly connecting Iowa with the world and the world with Iowa.”
"I hope WorldCanvass has been able to draw attention to the expansive global footprint of the UI, whether represented by its students, faculty, researchers, or alumni,” said Kjaer. “We are, in every college and department, working on inspiring, challenging, creative, and innovative answers to international issues and problems. It is important that Iowans know that—both those who work here on our campus and those who help support the UI through state funding.”
All WorldCanvass programs since 2009 are available online for public listening. Future live, in-person WorldCanvass programs will be posted on the WorldCanvass website.
International Programs (IP) at the University of Iowa (UI) is committed to enriching the global experience of UI students, faculty, staff, and the general public by leading efforts to promote internationally oriented teaching, research, creative work, and community engagement. IP provides support for international students and scholars, administers scholarships and assistance for students who study, intern, or do research abroad, and provides funding opportunities and grant-writing assistance for faculty engaged in international research. IP shares their stories through various media, and by hosting multiple public engagement activities each year.