COMMUNITY: Accessible & Shared

Community is central to the Obermann Center’s core values. We are invested in sharing the work of University of Iowa researchers and artists by making their work accessible to larger audiences, and also by providing scholars with opportunities to work directly with community partners.

Rai Tokuhisa explains how the bends added to the Iowa River in the new Riverfront Crossings Park will create improved water quality downstream.

Our Obermann Conversation series, co-hosted by the Iowa City Public Library, puts UI faculty, staff, and graduate students in conversation with local experts. We hosted four Conversations last year; two were canceled after we closed to in-person events.

  • Not So Straight and Narrow: Managing our Urban and Rural Waterways featured Craig Just (Civil & Environmental Engineering) and Rai Tokuhisa, a water resource expert for RDG Planning and Design. The two took the audience on a walking tour of Iowa City’s new Riverfront Crossings Park and explained the river bows that were installed there and the decisions involved in the creation of the space as well as in two other major grant-funded projects for which Just is the P.I.
  • Conversation: A Vital Tool for Mending Our Democracy featured Sherry Watt (Higher Education & Student Affairs, College of Education); Ben Hassman (Director, the Conversation Center); and Lore Baur (Certified Trainer for the International Center for Nonviolent Communication). They provided skills for holding mutually respectful and beneficial conversations and considered the power that this relatively simple tool provides for mending communities.
  • Domestic Stories focused on current and historical tensions between domestic workers and employers, including issues of race and gender and pay injustice. Jennifer Sherer (Director, UI Labor Center); Catherine Stewart (History, Cornell College); Fatima Saeed (home healthcare worker); and Donna Cleveland (feminist podcaster) considered the issues through contemporary and historical lenses.
  • And in the largest Obermann Conversation to date, with more than 100 attendees packing the Iowa City Public Library’s meeting room, two scholars and two community activists took up the topic of ICE Enforcement: Impacts on Community Health and Well-Being. The participants were Nicole Novak (College of Public Health); Carolyn Colvin (Language, Literacy, & Culture, College of Education); Elizabeth Bernal (Eastern Iowa Bond Project); and Rodrigo Reza (Iowa WINS).

The Obermann Conversations program, which attracted more than 200 people from the Iowa City area in 2019–20, cost little to produce but have a high impact. Multiple connections between the University of Iowa and community speakers and/or audience members have been made via this program, such as class visits and research collaborations. A recent example is the new podcast FilmCastPodScene, which is co-hosted by Nathan Platte (Music and Cinematic Arts, CLAS) and Rebecca Fons (Programming Director, FilmScene); the two met while presenting at a Spring 2019 Obermann Conversation about the role of music in movies.

We also had the pleasure of providing funding and staff support for several events that spanned campus and community in 2019–20, including Iowa City Darwin Day and Hard Won, Not Done: A Year of Events at the University of Iowa and in Our Local Community Commemorating the Ratification of the 19th Amendment. Additionally, our frequent collaborative partner, the UI Public Policy Center, hosted multiple speakers, movies, and panel discussions that pertained especially to the presidential election and voting rights and that Obermann enthusiastically supported.