John Pemble

Arts and Culture Reporter

John Pemble is the Arts and Culture reporter at Iowa Public Radio. In 1989, John began his Iowa Public Radio career in Fort Dodge as a program host for jazz, classical, and contemporary instrumental music programs. He joined Iowa Public Radio’s news department in 2008 to produce arts and culture stories.

John spent ten years as an adjunct professor for Iowa Central Community College’s broadcasting department teaching production and operations classes.

John's favorite public radio program is Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

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Rocky Votolato is a Seattle Washington-based Singer and Songwriter. He got his start in music more than twenty years ago in a punk band with his brother Wax Wing. After it disbanded he started performing solo. He took a break from writing and his latest record, “Hospital Handshakes,” has a similar sound to his old material. 

A couple years ago Votolato thought he was done with music. He wasn’t very proud of his last record, Television of Saints, and he decided to get a job; that ultimately didn’t work.

Photo by John Pemble

The Iowa Caucuses are less than a year away and politicians with presidential aspirations are visiting often.  California politician Samantha Clemons is visiting Iowa’s Capitol to seek inspiration. After gazing the artwork in the large reverberant rotunda, she pulls out her phone and makes a job offer to someone to run her Iowa campaign for president.

Photo by John Pemble

March 21st, 2015 was the 330th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birth, a prominent composer of classical music. On Saturday across the world, his life was celebrated through performances in unexpected public places, including one on the steps of Iowa’s former Capitol in Iowa City.

Photo by John Pemble

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is speaking in Iowa this week to gauge support for a presidential run in 2016. 

Photo by John Pemble

At Findley Elementary School in Des Moines, art teacher Lisa Hesse begins her morning class by standing with her students in a circle as relaxing music plays.

Photo by John Pemble

Arts advocates made their case at the Capitol during a Senate Education Committee meeting.  They want lawmakers to make fine arts part of the Iowa Core for K-12 education.  Leon Kuehner, executive director of the Iowa Alliance for Arts Education and a former band director, says the arts are a fundamental part of education. 

John Pemble / IPR

Clay Masters: It's Morning Edition on Iowa Public Radio. I'm Clay Masters. Governor Terry Branstad delivers his condition of the state speech this morning where he'll lay out his priorities in 2015. We sat down with the governor in his formal office at this capitol yesterday to get a bit of a preview. I start by asking the governor if this is the year a funding method will be approved to fix the state's deficent roads and bridges. 

Photo by John Pemble

The Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation is using a city bus to display new art.  Painter Alex Brown is the first of four artists to have his work photographed then printed on a vinyl seal surrounding the bus.  Brown says his paintings are comprised of aircraft and faces that are hard to make out at close range, but they become clearer from a distance.

“I was playing with the registry of things sort of slipping and being out of focus,” he says. “Kind of a varied combination of things that my eye was attracted to.”

Photo by John Pemble

 

The school year is well underway and hundreds of 4-H kids are working on projects to take to county fairs later this summer.

Photo by John Pemble

Historians and collectors gathered in Cedar Rapids last weekend to mark the 150 anniversary of the Civil War’s end.

Photo by John Pemble

After spending 104 years in Washington D.C., a sculpture of James Harlan returns to his hometown Mount Pleasant, Iowa.  Harlan was a U.S. senator and a member of President Andrew Johnson’s cabinet, but he is most remembered in Iowa as an influential college president of what is now called Iowa Wesleyan College.

Photo by John Pemble

A new play about one the country’s most influential Presidents will take place in a space only used by politicians.  “Lincoln’s Last Interview” only engagement is on the floor of the Iowa House in the State Capitol.  It’s being used as a stand in for the US House of Representatives.  The play is set on April 14th, 1865 where President Lincoln and his wife Mary give an interview to a reporter before leaving to see a play at Ford’s Theater.  

John Pemble

In this special edition of Talk of Iowa, IPR Arts and Culture reporter John Pemble and Executive Producer Katherine Perkins report on the sights and sounds of the 2014 Iowa State Fair.  Listen as we attend the 75th annual photography salon and talk with the photographer who seeks to capture the spirit of the fair in his new book.  We visit a food stand that's been serving pie and beef burgers to hungry fairgoers for 65 years, and witness the awarding of a blue ribbon for mechanical innovation on the farm.  We'll milk a cow, learn about Herbert Hoover and listen to some bluegrass.  It's all

Photo by John Pemble

Some exhibits at the Iowa State Fair begin before the opening day like the photo salon in the cultural center building.

Photo by John Pemble

100 years ago, amateur radio operators were in the early years of making wireless communication with people around the world.  Professional radio operators started calling them “ham” as a pejorative, because the amateur’s equipment often caused interference, but operators embraced it and the negative connotation disappeared.  There are 800-thousand licensed ham radio operators in North America with 6,619 of them in Iowa. One of the reasons this hobby continues to move forward is because of regular competitions.  

Photo by John Pemble

The Des Moines Metro Opera's summer 2014 season includes “Dead Man Walking”, the company’s first work from the 21st century.  It’s an adaptation of Sister Helen Prejean’s 1994 book about her experiences of ministering to death row inmates.  The story is based on Prejean’s early prison ministry work when she became the spiritual advisor for death row inmate, Patrick Sonnier until his execution in 1984 at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.  While the opera is based on Sonnier’s case, the story uses a fictious character, Joseph De Rocher.

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When Sister Simone Campbell first heard about Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget deal, she was less than impressed. “America was not founded on individualism, you can’t have a quilting bee alone. We need to encourage solidarity. He made it seem like it’s the responsibility of the poor to pull themselves up by the bootstrap, that’s not right.”

Photo by Clay Masters

Musician David Byrne was a mainstay on MTV in the early 1980s as the lead singer for Talking Heads. The group disbanded in the 90s, but Byrne’s still an influential artist and he used that influence this weekend during the grand opening of Des Moines Social Club.  This nonprofit organization started seven years ago as a center for the arts.  For most of those years it existed in small rented spaces, but now it has its own building, a downtown fire station built in 1937, that’s been under renovation for about a year. 

Photo by John Pemble

Late last year Olafur Eliasson finished the sculpture “panoramic awareness pavilion” in his Berlin studio and in December members of his crew installed it at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines.  The work is a series of 23, 9-foot tall glass panels arranged in a circle around a light beam.  Each slab of glass is semi-reflective in color gradients from yellow, blue, to orange.  Thursday afternoon Eliasson saw his work for the first time in its permanent Iowa home during a brief ceremony conducted by the Des Moines Art Center.

Photo by John Pemble

This week in New York City, nominations for the 68th Annual Tony Awards were announced.  In a few days around 870 voters across the country will receive ballots to determine this year’s winners, but only one will be sent to Iowa. 

Jeff Chelesvig is the CEO of Des Moines Performing Arts, which includes the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, where touring versions of Broadway musicals are presented.  Chelesvig has been a Tony voter for 18 years and says for a musical to be eligible for a Tony award, the producers must formally invite voters to come see the shows in New York.

Photo by John Pemble

Last May when violinist Karla Dietmeyer and cellist Olivia Hahn graduated from Luther College’s music program, they had already formed the modern folk duo The OK Factor.  But to move their musical goals forward, they decided to move to Minneapolis where they developed their songs and made recordings at a friend’s studio.  Some of their concerts dates brought them back to Olivia’s home town Cedar Falls as well as the Iowa State Fair.  By the autumn, Olivia moved to Memphis where she took a day job in an office and Karla to the Atlanta area living with her parents and teaching music lessons.

Photo by John Pemble

Most albums are a group of songs acquired as a single body of music on a vinyl record, CD, or download, but musicians like Max Wellman from Des Moines are challenging this decades old system.  Wellman is a 22-year old jazz singer who has been working full time in the business for three years after dropping out of Butler University in 2011.  Last November he released the CD “You Must Believe in Spring”, a collection of songs by artists like Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Frank Sinatra.  The instrumentation is mostly a string quartet to blend his love of classical music with jazz.

2013 has been a busy year for Iowa Public Radio's news team. Today on River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with reporters and correspondents about some of the most meaningful and challenging stories they covered. It's a "reporter's notebook" edition of the show.

Here is a list of the full features heard on today's show:

January 10 - Undocumented Immigrants at University

Photo by John Pemble

Classic stories are often updated to fit modern times and this year a Des Moines family has adapted an old holiday tale to a digital comic book.  

Photo by John Pemble

This week the musical Wicked is celebrating ten years.  Former Iowan Tim Baudler returned to Des Moines to see this show at the Civic Center with close friends and family to thank them for helping him overcome struggles in his life. 

Photo by John Pemble

Last week a performance combining the musical culture of Hungary and Iowa made its American debut in Cedar Falls.  It was organized by two recent music school graduates specializing in the performance of contemporary percussion music. Today they will share these new works with more Iowans as their short tour across the state resumes.


 

Photo by John Pemble

Guest hosts Katherine Perkins and John Pemble go to the 2013 Iowa State Fair.  They introduce us to a legally blind painter and a famous quilter.  They watch fairgoers shear sheep and clean fish.  They attend an Ecumenical church service for fair attendees and visit a memorial to honor fallen Iowa soldiers.

Photo by John Pemble

Two years ago a memorial honoring Iowa’s fallen veterans began traveling around the state. This week it’s getting its biggest audience yet while on display at the Iowa State Fair.  This new memorial is part of an effort by two Nebraskans who want to make exhibits like this for every state. 

Photo by John Pemble

One of the musical performances this weekend from the Iowa State Fair is the new band “The OK Factor".  Violinist Karla Dietmeyer and cellist Olivia Hahn combine folk, alternative rock, and modern classical music. 



 

Photo by John Pemble

Elsie Monthei is a blind painter who for more than thirty years has painted landscapes.  This week she spent a day at the Iowa State Fair demonstrating her talent for Very Special Arts (VSA), a group with the mission of highlighting the artistic abilities of people with disabilities.

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