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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 8, 2008

UI Museum of Art debuts modified reading series Sept. 19

The University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA) will kick off its annual Writer-in-Residence program and reading series at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19, in the Old Capitol Museum's Senate Chamber.

The 2008-09 series will have a new twist: since the devastating June flood left the museum without a building, the UIMA has adapted its collaboration with the UI Nonfiction Writing Program to produce the UIMA "Word Painters."

The Sept. 19 reading will feature UIMA Word Painter Spring Ulmer, who will share the reading with Stephen Kuusisto, a UI faculty member with a dual appointment in English, where he teaches courses in creative nonfiction, and the College of Medicine, where he serves as a public humanities scholar. The event is free and open to the public.

Other readings in the 2008-09 UIMA Word Painters series are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14, Feb. 19 and April 23 in the Senate Chamber.

While the name of the program has changed, the basic tenets have not: the four graduate students in the UI Nonfiction Writing Program chosen to be UIMA Word Painters will receive an honorarium and work on various writing projects, including an art-based essay.

At the end of their three-month appointment, each UIMA Word Painter will present a free, public reading alongside a well-known writer from the faculty of the UI's famed writing programs. Of course, the Word Painters will not be able to have an office in the UIMA building, as the Writers-in-Residence did.

"The flood may have left the Museum of Art without a building, but our purpose remains the same," said UIMA Interim Director Pamela White. "We must continue to fulfill our educational mission and serve our public. That's why we have made it a priority to find ways to modify our programs to exist in a post-flood world.'"

"The Old Capitol building has served as a refuge and community gathering place many times throughout its history, and we are happy to help the UIMA by hosting this year's Word Painter readings," said Shalla Wilson, the assistant director of the UI Pentacrest Museums (Old Capitol Museum and the Museum of Natural History). "We are grateful for the community coming together to support us during the disastrous fire that struck Old Capitol in 2001, and now we want to give back by helping those who have been affected by the 2008 flood."

Ulmer, a graduate student in her third year in the UI's nonfiction writing program, said programs like Word Painters provide invaluable support to emerging artists.

"It is a must that artists help other artists with encouragement of all kinds," she said. "The flood made me aware of how vulnerable we all are. I very much appreciate that the program continued, as I desperately needed the funding. It allowed me to continue to dedicate myself full time to writing this summer."

The UIMA's ongoing collaboration with the Nonfiction Writing Program for this reading series draws on the historical connection between visual art and literary writing to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. It also creates an atmosphere where student and teacher are allowed to operate as equals, an element Kuusisto considers crucial.

"I think that anything we can do, whether it's in the arts, in the classroom or around a community table, to take a part the notion of 'separateness' and put people on an equal footing is really good," he said. "One of the important things about the UI arts campus is that it creates this same kind of community of imaginative sharing and celebration that this very kind of reading series in the museum promotes."

Kuusisto is the author of the poetry collection "Only Bread, Only Light" and the memoirs "Planet of the Blind" and "Eavesdropping." He has appeared on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and "Dateline: NBC," and he is a regular contributor to National Public Radio. Visit for more information on Kuusisto.

Ulmer, a Vermont native, attended the Cooper Union School of Art in New York City, worked as a photojournalist and reporter in eastern Kentucky, and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry from the University of Arizona, where she taught for five years before coming to Iowa City.

The UIMA/Nonfiction collaboration was created in the fall of 2006 to foster writing about the visual arts. This year's group of writers was selected by Meghan Daum, a well-known novelist and essayist and weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Graduate student writers for 2008 are sponsored by Mary K. Calkin.

For more information on the UI Museum of Art, including updated event listings, visit

The Nonfiction Writing Program is part of the Department of English in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. For more information, visit

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Maggie Anderson, Museum of Art, 319-335-1739,; Peter Alexander, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0072 (office), 319-541-2846 (cell),