By Lois Gray, fyi
Joan Kjaer is iconic to fans of classical music. With her familiar mellifluous voice, Kjaer served for more than 32 years as the host and producer of Know the Score, a live Iowa Public Radio program whose hallmarks were musical performance and wide-ranging conversation about the arts and culture.
Now Kjaer continues that tradition in her new role as interim director of communications and relations for International Programs at The University of Iowa—a place where she can pursue her passions in international issues, the arts, music, and culture.
Her program, WorldCanvass, debuted last year and is a monthly television and radio series broadcast live from the historic Old Capitol Senate Chamber. The series explores topics that are international in scope and central to people’s understanding of how individuals fit into the global landscape.
Kjaer explains the name of the program. “The world is our sphere of discovery and examination and ‘to canvass’ means ‘to examine in detail.’ Our goal is to examine our world in detail.”
Kjaer shares with fyi how she got involved in public radio in a serendipitous way and some exciting new developments planned for WorldCanvass in the coming year.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in public radio?
I graduated from Iowa with degrees in religion and anthropology in 1975 and was planning to pursue a Master of Arts in religion when I was offered an opportunity I couldn’t resist. Hugh Cordier, the general manager of the University’s public radio stations, WSUI and KSUI, asked me to be the stations’ applicant for a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The stations applied for a Women’s and Minorities’ Training Grant, which was intended to bring women into producing and on-air roles in public radio around the country. At that time, there were few minorities and women in frontline positions. To my surprise, we received the grant, and I began working for the stations a few weeks later.
I continued to work for WSUI/KSUI following the grant period and held numerous positions, including general manager, over the 32 years I was there. I represented the University during the formation of Iowa Public Radio and served as both deputy director and communications director of the network before moving to International Programs…
WorldCanvass is going into its second season of production. Tell us more about the program and how it’s expanding.
There’s an incredible array of internationally focused work being done here at the University, and WorldCanvass brings guests from the faculty, staff, and student body together with innovators, creators, and thinkers from the private sector to share experiences and enlighten all of us who are interested in figuring out what’s going on around us. The resulting discussion is inevitably more challenging and intriguing than I could have hoped for when planning the program.
We produce WorldCanvass before a live audience one Friday a month in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber—with live streaming over the Internet—and it is distributed to viewers and listeners around the state on UITV, the Iowa Public Radio network, which is new this year, KRUI 89.7FM, and the Public Radio Exchange (www.prx.org). The program is even being aired on the University of Texas public radio station, KUT in Austin. International Programs has wonderful production partnerships with the Pentacrest Museums, UITV, ITS, and KRUI, and the Iowa City Press-Citizen offers space on the opinion page each month for commentaries on international topics to be addressed by our WorldCanvass guests.
WorldCanvass can also be taken “on the road” when an opportunity arises. The mobile version of the show is called WorldCanvass Studio, and these programs can take place before a concert or theater piece as sort of a “green room” conversation. They also can be arranged on short notice, as was the case last year when National Endowment for the Humanities chairman Jim Leach sat down in the IP Commons for an interview and Q&A session.
How is this program part of the University’s broader vision for internationalization on our campus and community?
International Programs is a lively meeting point for faculty and staff who do international research and teaching, students who undertake study abroad programs and pursue International Studies degrees, international students and scholars from all over the world, and community members with international interests. WorldCanvass draws from all of these groups for compelling conversations and insight about issues of the day, connecting Iowans with their world in a new way.
Do you have a favorite classical musician?
Yo-Yo Ma, not just for his performing skill but also for his wide musical appreciation and for opening the ears of the world to new musical sounds as he did with his Silk Road Project.
What was the best vacation or trip you ever took?
My first solo trip to Rome stands out because it came at the perfect time in my life, and I have, for some reason, a strong personal and emotional tie to Italy. I don’t know why—I’m not Italian! I found my two trips to Poland to be stunning and revealing. Poland is unspeakably gorgeous and the people have so much warmth, depth, and character. But I feel terrible singling out one trip or one location over another. Each trip has been great.