Eileen Weir | Committee Chair

In this KC Cares interview, we speak with Eileen Weir, former mayor of Independence and community engagement committee chair for the Parade of Hearts initiative in Kansas City. Launched in 2022, the Parade of Hearts is a public art project featuring large, three-dimensional hearts designed by local artists, displayed throughout the city, and later auctioned to benefit local charities. The initiative aims to bring communities together post-pandemic and celebrate the region’s diversity. The 2023 edition features 40 hearts, with proceeds benefiting the University of Kansas Health System, the Children’s Miracle Network, the artist community, and The Family Conservancy. The initiative has encouraged exploration of the city and provided a platform for local artists. Despite not being intended as a long-term annual event, due to its positive impact, the Parade of Hearts will continue for a few more years with plans to expand in 2024

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(00:00) voice and we’re telling the stories of Kansas City nonprofits and the people behind them KC cares is the intersection of the non-profit and profit communities making Kansas City a better place to live work and play this KC care segment is brought to you by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation www.kauffman.

(00:20) org the coveted pandemic was such a trying time in so many ways we looked for anything to brighten our days as the Health crisis just drug on well in 2022 one of the bright spots in Kansas city was the appearance of 156 five foot five inch three-dimensional Hearts uniquely designed by local artists these Hearts popped up all over the metro and eventually were auctioned with proceeds benefiting local charities the parade of Hearts has helped our region become stronger to say the least these Lively sculptures captured our hearts and

(00:56) they’re back this Year’s parade of Hearts features 40 Hearts scattered throughout the metro and among those who’ve been involved from the get-go is Eileen Weir the former mayor of independence with her leadership as the community engagement committee chair Eileen is at the Forefront of this year’s effort pulling in all aspects of our community how does she do it well let’s find out because Eileen is joining us today Eileen it’s so great great to have you oh it’s great to be here it’s

(01:23) good to see you again the same here so I I have to own up I’ve had uh connections with Eileen and her official elected capacity and I little did I know you had this whole background thing going on you’re a lady that does incredible things including jumping out of planes and skydiving onto the Presidential Library Lawns and everything else so we appreciate the time but talk a little bit about how you became engaged with parade of Hearts okay well um it’s a very interesting story and uh yeah I’ve had a very interesting life

(02:06) and career so um there’s a lot to talk about um so when I was mayor of Independence the parade of Hearts public art experience was launched and um it was presented as you know this was going to be a regional event that was to celebrate you know all of the communities within our region through this public art experience um and I was also at the time serving on the board for Arts KC our regional Arts Council so Arts KC was involved as well so I kind of was involved in in a couple of different ways so parade of Parts was

(02:53) the idea actually went back several years and then because of covert it got put on hold and then you know as we were coming out of covid uh starting to come out of cobit the idea of resurfaced to say why don’t we go ahead and and and try this out as a way to really recover from covid uh we had been so disjointed so isolated that it was you know really presented as a way to bring our communities back together and not only the pandemic but also an enormous amount of other types of civil unrest um were certainly happening politically

(03:40) um racially civically there were it was a it was a hard and and dark and difficult time so it was it’s really to celebrate our diversity um to celebrate our connection as the communities of the Kansas City metropolitan region and so I was approached um to participate as were you know nearly every mayor in um our region and I really challenged the idea of this being a regional event um as the mayor of Independence which is this similar to city in Jackson County in the fifth largest city in the state of Missouri I

(04:30) often found that Regional initiatives ultimately did not include the region um you know we live next to the largest city in the state um obviously Kansas City Missouri attracts most of the attention as it should um as the heart of our community but yet you know I and other Mayors on both sides of the state line both sides of the river often felt that Regional efforts were not Equitable across all of these cities and communities um so I was given a personal pledge by Jen nesbeck who’s the executive director

(05:16) of prairie departs that this would be different and it was um it was executed and continues to be executed in a way that really values and respects all of the communities equally in our great Carlton area and really guides people to learn more about some of the communities that they may not be as familiar with but also you know to learn about things that they think they know but maybe they don’t you know explore some areas of Kansas say Missouri and of you know the larger Overland Park and some of the Leewood

(05:56) and um you know some of the larger cities on both sides of the state I think it’s so interesting that you talk about how Regional efforts really aren’t Regional but you all have been able to do that what’s the secret how were you able to kind of keep that fair field you know bringing everyone to the table yeah um it’s really just a commitment from first and foremost the board of parade of Hearts um and then all of the people who work on committees all of the volunteers and the artists um this couldn’t happen without the

(06:45) artists and every single one of these Hearts is designed and created by a local artist we had hundreds of submissions for a small number of hearts that we were able to select um so it’s really just a constant and deliberate intention to say are we meeting our goals are we staying true to what we promised and um you know my role as the community engagement chair is to make sure that we are thinking about the those things and reaching out um into you know all the nooks and crannies all around our region we have a

(07:40) committee of about 40 people from you know we can’t have somebody from every town and and Village and city um but we are very deliberate in being inclusive of communities and there’s a very large public engagement component to parade of Hearts we have available now a form which people can fill out and suggest locations for 2024.

(08:10) this year is a little bit different and we’ll talk about that and why that is but next year we’ll go back to 100 plus Hearts um all over the region so we’re encouraging people right now to um you know fill out that form send us suggestions of places where you would like to see hearts and it’s really helped us to discover uh communities that may have not been well represented in in various ways and meet people and build those relationships well let’s talk about how this really was so Grassroots with Jen we’ve been

(08:52) lucky to have her on the show before and and it just seemed like it just blossomed be very transparent with us so you get these nominations or applications of designs for hearts and yeah so what’s the process of choosing what you choose um well there’s a committee who does that it’s you know we have a jury uh committee made up of artists uh Civic leaders Business Leaders um part you know people who know what they’re talking about and looking at uh art and um you know they review them and um make their selections there’s is

(09:40) obviously certain requirements since the hearts are displayed out of doors for several months so there’s you know some requirements about those types of things um but you know it’s really just a um Judgment of concept uh execution um you know the story behind the the creation you’ll see you know this year there’s several hearts that celebrate the Kansas City Chiefs for various reasons and um you know so it’s just uh you know it’s just a process and there’s there’s tons of submissions that we just don’t

(10:28) have enough Hearts to be able to do them all so we just encourage people they are artists to submit again next year and the 2024 submissions will be opening up later um early this summer so it’ll give people another opportunity um to submit their designs now there’s a whole charity component to this and talk a little bit about that and was that intentional as well yes it was very intentional um initially the um beneficiary was um going to be the University of Kansas Health System um that was when it was you know

(11:14) ultimately launched after covid that was expanded to really take into consideration the industries that were so severely impacted by the pandemic um because we use the heart um a large portion of the fundraising effort is focused on heart health and the University of Kansas Health Center our health system I’m sorry um so they are beneficiary there was um in 2022 the artist Community was a beneficiary and that was administered through Arts KC which I mentioned earlier um the hospitality industry are you know

(12:06) servers and um food service hospitality service workers um so those were all very intentional the Mid-American Regional Council assisted us with that in 2022 to help administer that so a huge shout out to the greater Kansas City Community Foundation who’s been just an incredible partner with parade of Hearts um they assisted Us in selecting the recipients for this for 2023 and 2024.

(12:45) so again the payu health system is a beneficiary uh Children’s Miracle Network and the artist Community continues to be a beneficiary as well then there was a open call for applications for the fourth beneficiary so as you can imagine we got hundreds of submissions right non-profit organizations of which we have so many incredible ones in our area and um The Family Conservancy was selected as the fourth beneficiary so um you know we were very excited about that and it’s an outstanding opportunity to learn about the great work that the

(13:31) Family Conservancy does so how is the fundraising done obviously the artists create these Hearts I understand they receive a stipend so it’s not just give us these wonderful hearts for you know with no remuneration but so how’s the other component component so then we have incredible sponsors um you’ll see as you travel around and scan your hearts and take photos of the hearts as they’re on display that each one of those hearts is sponsored by a local company um then at the end of parade of Hearts

(14:10) we have an auction last year it was a big event down at the Midland Theater um and there’s an online component where people bid on Hearts online and then we reserved a certain number of parts for a live auction so then those proceeds um benefit the uh chariable causes as well this year we are only going to do an online auction we are not going to do a live auction um because of you know what we’re calling our limited edition of having 40 Hearts this year um and then next year you know we’ll go back to a larger

(14:57) um number of parts and you know do the auction so you know there’s sponsors there’s auction we sell merchandise um so there’s a whole lot of merchandise available online for people to purchase and you know show their pride and our Heartland and the parade of Hearts program are compensated um and we did something we added something uh this year there was a public reveal of all 40 Hertz that was held at the American Royal um and the artists were there to interact with the public and they had the opportunity to also settle there were

(15:51) there are each one of them got uh you know a space that they could display and and sell their art which was phenomenal we had hoped to have a thousand people attend math there was a lot of family activities but going on around that one of our sponsors um you know wrapped Commerce and left kids and people doodle on the cars um and we had over 4 000 people attend so it was an incredible incredible success um and a wonderful opportunity for these artists um you know to show there are sell their art and interact with

(16:33) um the public it seems like such a natural thing yet you and your creative Team all came up with this Concepts I remember the cows and a lot of people probably remember the cows and it was wonderful at the same time I think some people may have cringed a little bit and said do I want to be a cow town so yeah having a heart in the Heartland is phenomenal why did you all make the decision this year to only do 40.

(17:00) oh wow um it was never supposed to be an annual event I mean originally it was going to be a one-time event but the response was so incredible that um the decision was made to extend it um for a few more years uh so it’s a mammoth undertaking you know my little lane is you know this but just the sponsorships you know producing the hearts selecting the artists finding the locations all the logistics around getting the locations and this year we are doing work what I’m calling a heart transplant where they’re in one location

(17:57) um they were in one location through May um and then then they are moving to different locations through the Fourth of July holiday so there’s a lot that goes into it um so the decision was made that in order to be able to do it in 2023 we needed to shrink it but with um the NFL draft happening in Kansas City in April we just felt you know the decision was made that we just couldn’t miss the opportunity to do parade of hearts you know in the same time frame as all of these people are you know were coming

(18:43) to Kansas City for the NFL draft and our our community was in the National Spotlight once again and um so in order to be able to pull it off we had to do this limited edition but we’d like to say the only thing that’s limited about it is the number of Hearts um they creativity the number of things being on this team that we come up with and create and try almost on a daily basis there’s always another why don’t we do this why don’t we try that I’m a little surprised that that’s coming that wasn’t planned and just this

(19:29) amazing team of energetic creative people just make it happen we’ve got to talk about how do you run something like this is anybody paid oh yeah I mean yes so there is staff that is working on this and is yes okay yeah there are there is but it’s um you know there’s contracts for different aspects of the parade of Hearts uh to handle the promotion Logistics events um all of those things but you know that’s a very small portion I realize so much on just incredible volunteers the community our sponsors our beneficiaries

(20:22) are critical to all of that as well they just um you know lend us so much support um you know the the financial backing the expertise um so yeah it’s it it takes a lot of people um and we wanted to and we want that to be ever expanding it’s it’s critical that people all in and around our region um participate in many ways um just going and looking at the hearts posting it you know engaging with us on social media and Instagram and Facebook and Twitter um you know we have Media Partners who help us incredibly to get the word out and

(21:14) you know it is a fundraiser but it’s just so much more than that I mean it’s just an experience um and the cows I do remember that that was gosh you know I feel like I was just new to Kansas City when that happened and it was a really cool project [Music] um but it was a pro you know it was a project that happened into lots of different communities for you know Hearts is just uniquely hours um you know it was born and um created right here in our um community and just as very very unique well I give credit to you all it it

(22:01) doesn’t it feels like that it doesn’t feel like well this is a Kansas City Missouri project or this is that you know Independence project and I think it’s really fun when you drive around town and you’d see these out of the corner of your eye you’re trying to be mindful of where you’re driving that you see right and and then when you see somebody stop there and it’s obvious that they’re taking a picture or they’re reading about the heart I mean that’s just what’s so joyful and what a natural we

(22:30) are the Heartland so it is you know you just created and landed on such a wonderful thing continuation I know 2024 we’re not far away but what is the plan for this wonderful project so um 2023 will wrap up um you know around Fourth of July ish you know in that time frame and um we have a little something special planned after that and then the hearts will be auctioned um and then right away or you know gearing up for 2024.

(23:16) um to you know go large again there’s a big International Event happening in 2026 in Kansas City um so there’ll be some you know thought and consideration about what we do moving forward but it will it I mean there is a it’s there is an ending time for parade of hearts and um you know it’s not gonna be something that’s gonna you know go on for decades uh which you know we want to keep it special and um so you know there’ll be more to come I you know I can’t say specifically we’re gonna you

(24:08) know re we’re always trying to keep it fresh be creative come up with new ideas and ways of doing things um so you know we’re definitely feel like we’re you know building the planet as we’re flying it a lot of the time um but you know we just have we have a wonderful um you know just product I would say and concept and um principles behind sorry to heart so that won’t change uh we’ll just favorite new and creative ways to to share the stories I I will say there’s just been things that nobody could have

(24:57) anticipated these just incredibly heartwarming stories about people in our community individuals who found a special connection with one of the hearts um and went to see them at places where they had never been um Jen may have shared this story with you previously but one of the most touching stories from last year was and Chris good who owns Ruby jeans Juicery down on 30th and Troost uh there was a heart at his business and one morning as things were sort of you know the story of Hearts was wrapping up the public part of it he

(25:48) knows a woman um outside you know trying to get a selfie with the heart early in one morning while he was opening up and so he went out to talk to her and she was a elderly woman in her 80s and she said I’ve lived in South Johnson County um for 30 years and I was always afraid to come down to this neighborhood I never felt like this was someplace where I would feel comfortable or safe or be welcomed and she said but I’ve wanted to see all 150 654 whatever that number was I wanted to see them all and this is my very last one

(26:38) um and it’s just as such I mean that’s it that just says it all that you know a woman who had lived in this community um all these years and because of this project went intentionally to go see all of the hearts and visit places where she had never been um and never thought that she would go and you know so you know that relationship built and they you know or somebody understand it like still staying contact and that’s what we really want to um encourage is um know your neighbor love your neighbor and

(27:25) um this is a great way to do that we’d be very remiss without giving you the opportunity where can people go and find all the information for parade of hearts and even maybe volunteer as you get rolling towards next year yeah um so the website uh parade of Hearts website is a great resource that gives you a lot of information um that’s where you can also buy uh merchandise and the mobile app is the best and most fun way to experience um the heart you just download that on you know Apple Android whatever you have

(28:06) and um it will you can see the map where all the hearts are you can learn about all of the artists you can that’s how when you go to the heart you can scan the QR code to just hit scan on the app and it will pull that up and you scan it and it’ll check you in um so you can keep track of all the hearts that you’ve seen that you know that’s how we collect the data where we know how many people visited each heart um which does help us you know as selecting locations for the future is you know if a heart didn’t get

(28:46) very much you know as many uh check-ins than you know we sort of evaluate that location maybe it wasn’t ideal um and then of course you know Facebook Twitter Instagram uh follow on social media there’s always I mean there’s news every week about new things and interesting things and fun things that are happening uh so um you know those are the resources and I would say you know let us reach out let us know where you’d like to see a heart um and you know we’ll include that in for next year obviously we can’t put one

(29:35) every place but um you know we’re always looking for those suggestions as well and it’s paradeofhearts.com yes and there’s all kinds of colorful information there for sure and shopping is lots of fun and it all goes to support Charities and and the ongoing idea of you know having these hearts in the Heartland you’re having the beat goes on to uh swipe a song from uh the 60s and 70s as it were Eileen how lucky they are to have you as part of this this whole Endeavor and your creativity and your energy and your commitment and

(30:12) thank you for spending a little bit of time with us to share all the great stuff about parade of hearts well thank you Ruth it was it’s a it’s a great project to work on it’s a joy to be a part of it and thank you for having me today and uh Happy heart hunting absolutely thank you for joining us for the KC cares Kansas City’s non-profit voice we’re produced by charitable Communications which is also a non-profit this KC care segment was brought to you by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

(30:44) www.huffman.org if you’d like to be a guest on KC cares please visit our website KCcaresonline.org and spread the love you’ll find us on Facebook and Twitter at KC cares Radio and on Instagram at KC cares online don’t forget you can catch us on Saturday mornings at 8 A.M on ESPN 15 10 a.m 94.

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