Arts and Culture

Arts and culture

Roger Higgins, World Telegram staff photographer

For 65 years Charlie Brown has been getting kites stuck in trees, missing footballs, and getting hit by baseballs.

On this Talk of Iowa segment, Charity Nebbe talks with Karen Johnson, director of the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, about why Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang still resonate with audiences, as well as the enduring legacy of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, 15 years after his death.

"He was always authentic," says Johnson about Schulz. "He said to many people, 'To know me is to read the strip; everything I am goes into that strip.'"

Photo by John Pemble

The chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts has concluded a two-day visit to Iowa, which included conducting research for the NEA's future.  In a Town Hall-style meeting in downtown Des Moines last night, NEA Chairman Jane Chu said she'd just met with Iowa arts leaders to help write an infrastructure report.  It will assess what resources will be required to expand a community's arts sector as part of the NEA’s new initiative called Creativity Connects.

John Pemble

The National Endowment for the Arts was created in 1965 under the Johnson Administration. NEA Chairman Jane Chu has been in office for a little over a year, and during that time she has traveled to 30 states. Chu is currently in Iowa, her first visit to the state as Chairman. 

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe talks with Chu about the NEA's current focus, the division's 50th anniversary, and whether we should be encouraging young people into a career in the arts.

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation / Wikimedia Commons

Every once in a while we hear about a child musical prodigy who can play an instrument better than most of us could ever dream of playing.  Few of these prodigies become adult stars, but Chris Thile is an exception. 

Thile started playing mandolin with the band Nickel Creek when he was only 8 years old, and he won his first Grammy at age 16.  Today, he fronts the band Punch Brothers and has been named a MacArthur Genius. Starting in early 2016, he’s going to be taking over as host of A Prairie Home Companion for Garrison Keillor.

Courtesy of Joseph Firecrow

Joseph Firecrow remembers growing up on the reservation and listening to the elders play the flute. He started learning the instrument when he was 18 and says a true Cheyenne flute player hasn’t mastered the craft until he can both play and make a flute.

Lindsey Moon / Iowa Public Radio

Iowa-based magician Nate Staniforth wants to bring wonder back to the modern world. He’s been practicing magic since he was about 10 years old and is on a mission to encourage people to embrace the unknown.

“Whatever happens at a magic show is tapping into something that fundamentally human,” he says. “If you perform at a kid’s party, it’s the adults in the back that are watching most closely. I think that’s because it reminds us of something we’ve lost… a sense of wonder, maybe.”

Alfred A. Knopf

Jane Smiley, who grew up near St. Louis, graduated from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and taught English at Iowa State from 1981 to 1996, has completed her "Last Hundred Years" literary trilogy with the final volume "Golden Age" (Alfred A.

Terry Gilliam spent the first 12 years of his life in Minnesota, but he would go on to become the one of the most beloved entertainers in British history.

He is one of the founding members of Monty Python and the man responsible for the art and animation that defined the look of the group.  He has a new memoir out, called Gilliamesque: A Pre-posthumous Memoir.

When asked how he feels about imitators, or people who have been inspired by his work, Gilliam says he feels proud.

Iowa State University College of Design

The act of making art can be powerful on a personal level, but it can also be a powerful force in a community. 

"Public art is like locally grown food," says Tom Stancliffe, art professor and sculptor at the University of Northern Iowa. "There's value in having the people around you shape the space."

Gretchen Dehner

Walter and Wagner Caldas grew up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Their parents introduced them to classical music, urging them to stay away from drugs and violence. That push was the start of a remarkable journey.

"We started by ourselves," says Walter Caldas. "People would make fun of us. But then, this guy in Brazil started teaching music for the kids in the community, so they don't go through the same pattern of drug dealing and stuff. So that made it a little easier for us; we are not alone."

Sculpt Siouxland

Someone has stolen a bronze statue from downtown Sioux City. The city’s Art Center discovered "Goddess of the Grapes" was gone on Tuesday from it's 4th Street location, after doing an inventory of all the public art sculptures it maintains.

The roughly 20-inch statue depicts a young woman holding grapes, standing on her toes and reaching towards the sky. "Goddess of the Grapes" is owned by the nonprofit Sculpt Siouxland and maintained by the Sioux City Art Center.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

The 16th Annual White Eagle Pow Wow will be staged this weekend on land just south of Interstate 80 near Waukee. The man behind the event calls it the only multicultural Pow Wow in the world.


On a football Saturday afternoon in a suburban West Des Moines neighborhood of single family homes, the air is filled with incongruous music.


Photo by John Pemble

Small science fiction booklets created by amateurs in the 1930s gave birth to the independent publication known as zines or fanzines. The University of Iowa special collections department is storing thousands of rare zines, which are now are in the process of being digitized for the first time.  They are stored in a secure area of the University of Iowa libraries where the ceiling lights have special filters to prevent damage to priceless documents.

Photo Courtesy of the artist


John Darnielle is the songwriter and leader of the band The Mountain Goats. He headlined this weekend’s Maximum Ames Music Festival. He performed an expansive set including songs from The Mountain Goats's newest record, "Beat the Champ," a concept album about professional wrestling.


Darnielle, who lived in Ames, Colo and Grinnell, is also an author. His first novel Wolf in White Van was nominated for the National Book Award last year. It's a fascinating tale of an outcast gamer whose face had been mutilated.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

An associate professor at Simpson College is spreading the word about the many types of religious beliefs found in Iowa. She's trying to defuse tensions among faiths that occasionally lead to violence and, during the last session of the Iowa Legislature, resulted in lawmakers boycotting a prayer from a Wiccan priestess.  

Maeve Callan is first-generation Irish-American, and raised Catholic until she was around 15. That’s when she started reading European history and learning about the Holocaust, which left her struggling with a difficult question.

Ben Kieffer

Since 1967, over 1,400 writers from more than 140 countries have taken part in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, often referred to as the “United Nations of writers.”

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with several of this year’s writers who attended a welcome party in Iowa City earlier this week. They share poetry, their hopes for their time in the Midwest, and the struggles and inspiration they have brought with them from their home countries.

Emily Woodbury

The Yes Men have been pulling pranks and engaging in guerilla activism for 20 years. They’ve targeted the World Trade Organization, George W. Bush, big industry, and in their most recent film, they’re battling climate change.

"This latest film is addressed to the people who can actually make change, which is all of us," says Bichlbaum.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

One of the so-called "Lost Boys of Sudan" is living in Storm Lake, but his heart remains in his homeland. He is dedicated to drawing attention to and raising money for children orphaned by civil war.

Photo by John Pemble

Des Moines artist Ben Schuh was commissioned by the Iowa State Fair to create a mural on site during the 11-day event.  He is elevated 10 feet in the air by a motorized scaffolding, so he can work on the details of his drawing of the State Capitol and landscapes filled with wind turbines.  These are a few of the Iowa scenes on a 14-by-12 foot painting.  

Prominent Des Moines arts patron and philanthropist Melva Bucksbaum has died.

She established the popular Bucksbaum Distinguished Lecture Series at Drake University in memory of her late husband, Martin, the founder of General Growth Properties.

Since 1997, the series has drawn top names in politics, media and the arts, including NPR’s Nina Totenberg and former President Jimmy Carter.

The first Bucksbaum lecture was delivered by Melva’s nephew, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

Melva Bucksbaum died Sunday in Aspen, Colorado. She was 82 years old.

Chlot's Run / Flickr

Instead of a compact disc, people who preordered The Awful Purdies' album, "All Recipes Are Home," got a different, but no less meaningful physical manifestation of the album--a packet of seeds.

"The people who preordered the album planted the seeds in the spring and at the record release on June 27th, you could see the photos of the food they’d already grown. People were actually eating the food they'd grown from the album," Katie Roche, a member of The Awful Purdies, says.

Arno Wesselink / Iowa Public Radio

If you listen to Talk of Iowa and River to River regularly, you have probably heard Iowa State University psychologist Doug Gentile talk about the science behind video games and the aspect of violence media, video games, and kids; but Doug is also a member of the band, Tom and Doug.

On this Talk of Iowa segment, Charity Nebbe talks with Gentile and bandmate, Tom Florek, a computer programmer in New Jersey. The band’s goal is to take serious issues and talk about them through the lens of comedy.

Courtesy of Lauren Hanna

When Solon resident Lauren Hanna first saw her dog Clifford taking care of a blind rooster named Hedwig, she didn't believe it; but the two became fast friends.

"Hedwig will get lost out in the yard," Hanna says. "After a night when an animal attacked Hedwig and pulled some of his tail feathers out, Clifford took him under his wing."

"To see it be this ongoing relationship is amazing."

Running to the Fire

Jul 23, 2015
Waldorf College

Tim Bascom, author of the novel "Squatters' Rights" and the essay collection "The Comfort Trap" is out with a new memoir about his time growing up in the 1970's in Ethiopia, "Running to the Fire: An American Missionary Comes of Age in Revolutionary Ethiopia." (University of Iowa Press)

Consider the history of the washing machine, in which Iowa played an integral part.  You may think that the Maytag, developed in Newton, was a product of the work of company founder F.L. Maytag.  But retired educator and amateur historian Tom Hoover says Mr. Maytag was really more of a shrewd businessman who could spot genius engineers and innovators when he saw them.

Orchestra Iowa has a new concert master, Dawn Gingrich. She says she fell in love with the violin when she was three.

“I was constantly exposed to lots of great concerts,” she says. “When I was three years old, there was a women playing the violin at a concert I attended with my parents, and she had a terrific dress on. That’s really what stuck with me. I was reportedly insistent about violin lessons after that.”

Liz West / Flickr

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Patricia O'Conner, word maven and founder of “Grammarphobia.” They discuss the word itself, its interesting etymology, what it means in the US and the UK, and the origin of the phrase “knee high by the fourth of July.”

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

 The six members of the band known as Chaotic Inquisition are in rehearsal.

They are polishing an original tune for a studio recording session and a concert, which will conclude the two weeks of Girls Rock Des Moines. The camp aims to build confidence in young women ages ten-to-16, and to encourage more of them to pursue music. The founder and executive director of the camp, Rae Fehring, says she was struck by an observation she made while lingering in a store testing instruments.

D Sharon Pruitt / Flickr

According to professor of psychology, Marianne Lafrance, our hair plays a bigger role in our lives than we might think. She says there is a psychological impact of having a bad hair day. 

In her research, Lafrance found that a majority of people are inclined to have lower self-esteem on bad hair days.

Djh57 / Wikimedia Commons

There’s a new music festival, Hinterland, in Des Moines this summer, and other communities in Iowa are looking to get involved in the summer festival scene. This year marks the third anniversary of Fairfield’s “Fairfest,” a free weekend series of concerts and the Gentlemen of the Road Tour is stopping over in Waverly this weekend.