A new public art campaign plans to blanket the Kansas City region with dozens of oversized heart sculptures.
Called the Parade of Hearts, the newly announced effort will begin immediately recruiting artists interested in designing one of the five-foot tall fiberglass hearts. Organizers expect to install 100 to 200 sculptures across the region next March, when the men’s Big 12 basketball tournament will be in town.
The new campaign is similar to the world’s largest public arts effort, the CowParade. That traveling exhibit, which brings life-size cow sculptures to cities across the globe, came to Kansas City 20 years ago.
“It went over great here in Kansas City but we feel like the KC heart is ours,” said Tucker Trotter, who is on the board for the Parade of Hearts. “So we’re really excited about how this event can be uniquely ours.”
The CEO of Overland Park’s Dimensional Innovations, Trotter said the Parade of Hearts aims at uniting the metro area following the division and separation of last year.
“It’s an art experience with the single purpose of uniting our region and making it stronger,” he said. “I think art, like sports, has this ability to break down barriers and pull people together around something that’s exciting like art. And I think the timing just couldn’t be better.”
The use of the heart icon dates back decades in Kansas City.
A century ago, railroad workers from Kansas City wore heart-shaped pins to represent their home base at the intersection of major railroad lines. Later in 1942, the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues wore a jersey with a heart-shape icon. In 1970, Kansas City adopted a municipal logo that combined the shapes of a heart and cascading fountains.
In late 2019, the Kansas City Area Development Council launched a regional branding effort with the KC heart logo popularized in recent years by Charlie Hustle, the local vintage T-shirt maker.
“Kansas City has long been known as the ‘heart of America,’” Jenn Nussbeck, co-chair of Parade of Hearts, said in a news release. “After the difficulties of 2020 and into 2021, this is an opportunity to heal our local communities, have productive conversations about equity and inclusivity, while lending assistance to those deeply affected by the events of the last year and a half.”
The Parade of Hearts is a collective effort organized by leaders at Dimensional Innovations, Charlie Hustle, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the University of Kansas Health System.
The campaign will raise money by seeking sponsorships for each heart installation, which will range from $10,000 to $100,000. Each sculpture will also be auctioned off to raise funds.
Trotter said the money would go to several local organizations, including the University of Kansas Health System, Visit KC Foundation, the Mid-America Regional Council and AltCap. He said those organizations would use the funds to aid those hit hardest from the pandemic. The healthcare system, for instance, will purchase equipment to treat Covid long-haulers. MARC will target its funds to educational initiatives and AltCap will help small and minority-owned businesses.
“We want it to be one of the largest fundraising efforts in Kansas City,” he said, “so our goals are big.”
In 2002, the year after the CowParade came to town, Kansas City launched its own spin-off with The March of the Teddy Bears, a public art project meant to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the teddy bear.
But that project didn’t receive nearly the fanfare of its bovine predecessor.
“I think you can sum up people’s response to the bears in the phrase ‘a collective yawn,’” Kansas City restaurateur Chris Seferyn, one of the primary developers of Martini Corner, said in a 2002 Star story. “They’re too derivative. They didn’t do anything interesting. It’s just a copycat, you know, so what’s next? Panda bears, monkeys?”