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Take heart, Kansas City — or take 150 hearts, painted by your favorite local artists

Dimensional Innovations
Parade of Hearts launches in March with hearts cropping up across the Kansas City metro area.

Unlike the CowParade from 20 years ago, Kansas City is the only place in the world to see these big hearts.

Kansas City's connection to hearts dates back at least a century.

In 1919, railroad workers wore pins to signal their home base as the "heart of America.” In the 1940s, Kansas City Monarchs players in the Negro Leagues wore jerseys with heart patches on the sleeves. Today, Charlie Hustle T-shirts are adorned with the KC heart.

With Parade of Hearts, Kansas City is not just wearing hearts — but proudly flaunting them. The public art and philanthropic project is set to debut starting Monday, March 7, with 154 hearts installed through June 10 across the Kansas City metro.

Like many ideas, Parade of Hearts began as a sketch on a napkin.

Tucker Trotter, the CEO of an industrial design company called Dimensional Innovations, says he and Chase McAnulty, owner and CEO of Charlie Hustle, met up for coffee a few years ago and started talking about a re-boot of the CowParade, a worldwide public art project where artists decorated hundreds of fiberglass cows — but something the city could call its own.

“We were just sitting there brainstorming,” says Trotter, "and I said, ‘You remember the CowParade? Could we do a heart parade?’”

The hearts, designed by Kansas City artists and businesses, will be auctioned in June and funds distributed to four area organizations: Alt-Cap, Mid-America Regional Council, University of Kansas Health System and Visit KC Foundation.

“There was so much happening in the world and there was so much division,” says Trotter, a founding board member of Parade of Hearts, “and we felt like here's an opportunity for us to set an example for other cities and communities, what it looks like to unify, what it looks like to come together.”

The hearts will be installed near tourist attractions as well as tucked into neighborhoods. An app is in the works to help people try to discover them all.

Here’s a look at just a few:

University of Kansas Health System graphic designers (left to right) Juan Salazar, Jeff Spiller and Erica Bennett dropped off their heart at Dimensional Innovations so it could be sprayed with a protective, clear coat before outdoor installation.
Dimensional Innovations
University of Kansas Health System graphic designers (left to right) Juan Salazar, Jeff Spiller and Erica Bennett dropped off their heart at Dimensional Innovations so it could be weatherproofed.

Designing a five-foot by five-foot fiberglass heart was not second nature for University of Kansas Health System senior graphic designer Erica Bennett. She’s used to working on computers.

“If you mess up, you can’t really (type) Command Z and go back,” she jokes. “So it’s been a little bit interesting working analog.”

A jury and selection panel sifted through 700 entries to choose the 123 artists. Bennett and a team of KU Health graphic designers submitted three proposals. Their selected design, she says, features “heroes in healthcare” with a pop-art comic book style.

Dimensional Innovations
University of Kansas Health System senior graphic designer Erica Bennett says her team drew on a pop art comic book style.

“On one side is a healthcare provider pulling back their white coat to reveal the KC in kind of a superhero fashion,” Bennett says.

On the other side are portraits of two healthcare providers.

“Because we believe that they are some of the true superheroes of this pandemic and that's reflected in this piece," Bennett says.

The pandemic has obviously made it a challenging time to work on the front lines of the healthcare industry, but Bennett says it's also been hard behind the scenes, such as in the marketing department.

“We still hear the big and scary every day. We hear all of it,” she says. “We are here to help communicate everything that needs to be communicated to our patients. And it can be hard.”

It was enjoyable to take a break, she says, from the “scary side of healthcare” and to create something positive.

Dimensional Innovations
Artist Chico Sierra says for his heart (center), he drew on some imagery of what he thinks people are drawn to about the Midwest and Kansas, such as musician Charlie Parker.

Artist Chico Sierra often creates two-dimensional works such as drawings or paintings. So the oversized 3-D fiberglass heart for Parade of Hearts was too large for his studio.

Instead, he worked inside Union Station at Science City for three to four-hour stretches over several weeks. And he was greeted by a lot of questions.

“Kids would just be like, ‘What are you doing? Is this a fish?' And ask questions about specific things they saw,” he says. "It was a good mix of kids and adults.”

One side of Chico Sierra's heart features Union Station, and on the other side, saxophonist Charlie Parker.
Chico Sierra
One side of Chico Sierra's heart features Union Station, and on the other side, saxophonist Charlie Parker.

A native of El Paso, Texas, Sierra is a painter, muralist and musician. His work often centers on indigenous and Chicano imagery.

“I wanted to keep it (the heart) within my aesthetic, but also include some of what makes Kansas City culturally significant to me,” he says, “and what I think people are sort of are drawn to about Kansas City or the Midwest in general.”

His heart features imagery inspired by Central American tapestry and embroidery, as well as jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. Union Station also makes an appearance — Sierra describes it as a symbol of the Midwest as a “transitional” place with “people coming from the east into the west.”

He adds, “My work creates movement, regardless of the push and pull of different lines.”

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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