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Episode 69: Halfway to Anywhere - Logan Stacer

Halfway to Anywhere with Logan Stacer, Executive Artistic Director of Heartland Arts KC and a Youth Pastor at Awaken Church KC.

In this episode, Logan shares where he finds confidence and joy. You’ll learn how he advocates for multiple social justice challenges in Kansas City and you’ll hear the story of a kitchen accident that led to his epiphany about being kind.

“If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. If you can’t make it in Chicago, you can’t make it anywhere.  If you make it in Kansas City, you are Halfway to Anywhere.”

Heartland Arts KC trains performing artists to become advocates of social justice. They aim to position Kansas City as a hub for arts advocacy, making public policy accessible for all.

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The theory that I developed myself, is that there’s a one-to-one relationship between arts, politics, and performance. In that performance is the way you understand yourself, politics is the way you understand the systems around you, and art is how you understand the totality of it all.

Welcome to the Speak with Presence podcast. I’m Jen V. and I’m JRT. On the Speak with Presence podcast, we believe perfection is overrated, leaders listen, and we all speak up to influence change. We exist to share the stories of powerful leaders who have used their voices to inspire change. We are here with someone at Kansas City who has a pretty profound impact on the culture and the arts.

Today we have Logan Stacer, who is the Executive Artistic Director at Heartland Arts KC, the founder. Logan is a friend, but he’s also a former student. And I had the pleasure of meeting him a month ago. So, we’ve been long lost friends for a month. And after having that conversation with Logan, which my head was spinning about the work that he’s doing, it just felt appropriate that we invite him to be part of the podcast because of the way that he uses his voice to unite the creative community in Kansas City. 

We’re going to stop talking about you, Logan, and welcome you to the Speak with Presence podcast. Thank you so much for having me. We’ve been doing these interviews, season three in Kansas City and we’ve been going on location with all of our podcast equipment. So, tell us where we are.

Yes, we are at Awaken Church KC. I am the youth pastor here and this is my unofficial home base. We are very happy to be in your home base listening to you today. I love the fact that we are here. Your role that you have here at the church. The mission it fulfills for you. You can talk a little bit more about that but I just feel like we’ve got to get to the nuts and the bolts for people to figure out who you are when we think about your why around your nonprofit.

The why around the nonprofit is very much an extension of my why as a person. I have always been in the arts. But also growing up, I was an athlete. I was a student. I was so many things, but it was the arts that sort of carried me. And not only my participation in the arts, but I’ve also been an educator. Whether that’s in leadership positions or in front of the classroom.

So as that journey continued, maintaining my actual working career as an artist and also a career as an educator. Both of those sort of reached a pinnacle point in New York where I was operating at a very high level with both of these and I’m not at home. So, I wanted to come home and give back to the city.

Of course, COVID played a role in that. I mean being back home has been super fulfilling and being at the church too as a youth pastor. I’m not only being able to influence or work with professional working artists, but also I have a group of teenage boys that I just get to hang out with and play basketball with every week and pour into and mentor.  So at the church, we very much believe in mentoring and being mentored at all times. And so I’m fulfilling that at Heartland.  I try to provide mentorship for artists and also set up artists for opportunities to mentor young people as well.

So, you were a graduate student in New York City at NYU and COVID hit. Yeah, I graduated 2019 and then I had another half a year to live life in New York City. And then, January 2020 rolls around and COVID hits.  And I was working at The Apple Store, too. So I’d get on the iPads in downtime and I’m like, oh guys, you hear about this COVID thing happening over there? A week goes by. Hey, this COVID thing’s getting a lot worse. So I feel like I had the inside scoop. I started the nonprofit at the end of 2019. It was when I had the idea. I launched the social media.  I was like, Heartland is a thing.

And then, in 2020 January, I was working at Columbia Law School with the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, and we had just done a theater for Change Workshop there. And that program was really helpful in sort of framing how this work works. And I was like, okay, I get having policymakers in the room, lawyers in the room, artists in the room, and seeing what happens.

I was like, oh man, there’s got to be some way I can do this with Kansas City artists. And coincidentally, my now wife was in Atlanta. I was like, well, maybe I could go do a program in Atlanta, take some Kansas city artists to Atlanta. They can collaborate with Atlanta artists. We can do a thing.

I was in Atlanta when New York City shut down and we were supposed to go from Atlanta to Kansas City for a wedding. I was like, maybe we should just bring all our stuff. And literally the day after we left, Atlanta shut down, too. I was in my parent’s basement, fresh out of grad school, still had my New York rent due but I got that COVID relief money. So that was paying my New York rent. It was just a wild time.

What was your mindset like as you started to come back to the city that you called home and left? Now, it’s like, oh yeah, this is what had to happen. But at the time, we were very much living through like you’re not allowed to go outside.  I don’t know that the ability to really process what was happening was what it was supposed to be. But at the time, conversations were also being had about me going out to LA once COVID lifted. And I had a mentor helping me at the time who was based in LA and I was starting to get into screenwriting more.

And I was like, COVID is a great time to just write scripts. I’ve always been just like a go with it kind of guy. So, I was like, we’ll make the most of this. It probably won’t last forever. And next thing I know, it’s September, October, and I’m with my girlfriend living in my parent’s basement.  I’m like, should we just get married so we can move out of my parents and do that?  And that’s what happened. So that sort of cemented things here in Kansas City. And we tried to move to LA and that didn’t work. So, when that happened, I was very much like Kansas City is where we have to be.

So, Logan, what makes Kansas City so special for those who want to use their voice?  Because Kansas City is a great listening city. People here are very open to receive. They’re very hungry to learn. Kansas City is a really interesting dynamic because there’s a handful of people who want to leave Kansas City. They want to go to a Chicago, to an LA, to New York and the opposite of that are people who are like, I’m not going to leave. I’m going to stay in Kansas City. And those people are like, well, if I’m going to stay here, I need to know what I need to know to make it better. Kansas City is super open to hearing new voices, to implementing strategies and to building community. 

And from what I’ve found, that’s across every industry. Whether you’re an artist or a scientist or in tech. We have a lot of festivals and stuff, music shows, all these things, and the people who show up are super hungry, and that is why I think it’s a great place for people to use their voice.

How has Kansas City, as a population, listened to Heartland Arts? So, like I said, we did that workshop in Atlanta. That was essentially a three-day workshop. And when COVID lifted and the restrictions loosened at the top of 2022, we transformed that three-day workshop into a 12-week fellowship. 

I was like this is really the market test for this type of work. Because coming back here, I say art and public policy and no synapses are connecting for people. So, I was like, art and advocacy, performance and community, really just trying to make it accessible to the audience here. And they played along until they saw the show.  And once people saw the show, I think that’s when it started to click for people. That was the 2022 Heartland Fellowship Showcase. And so that was at the end of the 12 weeks. The artist had been learning about houselessness in Kansas City and policy relating to houselessness. And so we had a rapper, a couple of poets, a storyteller, an instrumentalist and a comedian.

And through the 12 weeks, they took what they learned and then we all created a show together and performed it. And during that journey as well, we partnered with Artists Helping the Homeless, which is a great nonprofit here. And one of the men who was transitioning out of houselessness joined the fellowship. He was like, I used to write poetry. I was like, then write poetry right now. And he called it positive peer pressure. And that’s absolutely what it was. We had two work in progress shows and then a final showcase.

Throughout the process, we really just started to orient the whole show around his narrative and his experience.  It was really eye-opening thinking about most homeless people aren’t actually on the street, or most homeless people want jobs, but they don’t have addresses, so they can’t get interviews.  All these practical things that you don’t think about. He was super cool, and we were able to bring comedy into it.  The audience was super receptive, and like I resonate with this.

And so after the market tests, that’s when we started to apply for more grants. And we started to get more support, build our online presence and have the fellows go out and sort of champion the cause and the art scene here. It’s a snowball effect that is very actively snowballing and I’m really excited for what’s to come.

What do you see as what’s next? Yeah, so being able to root our work this year in a specific piece of policy. Kansas City passed the Climate Protection and Resiliency Plan that gave people a more tangible thing to latch onto and more context to ground the work that we’re doing. And it’s gone really well.  The room for growth is, you know, climate change is still super heady and super nonspecific and it’s recycle and compost. And so that’s been the challenge.

Going into next year, we’re focusing on juvenile justice and policies surrounding juvenile justice here in the city. And Kansas City is doing a lot of great work when it comes to juvenile justice.  Just a fantastic conversation to be had about the justice system generally. And I think now that more people are familiar with our work, being able to introduce specificity will bring again, just more eyes on the work, but also more real empathy and real conversation around the work.

And of course, being that we root everything in policy and are a microphone for direct support organizations, being able to partner with organizations that are helping the youth here in Kansas City and helping young people stay out of the incarceration system. The quality of work has been established. People are familiar with us putting on good shows.

That was sort of the Trojan horse. To be like Heartland Arts, they do cool stuff because the shows are good. But now that we’ve sort of gotten over that hurdle of quality, the next step is we’re going to build real bridges here in the community and really find ways to invest in the future of Kansas City. So that’s next for us.

So, you’re present in a lot of different places. So, then I want to know, as a company that really believes in presence and using your voice to create change, which is just all of who you are, how do you define presence? And how has it served you in your career, your many stages of your career?

There’s obviously the metaphysical state of being present, but also that really shows up with stage presence or sort of gravitas. I don’t know why that’s the word. Vavavoom, you know. But,  I think for me, I’ve always, even in high school, I was doing sports and theater.  I’ve always just done a lot of stuff.

And so, my brain kind of just has been trained to be like this is what I’m doing right now, and now I’m doing something else. And so, cognitively, I’ve very much never struggled to think about, or dwell on the past. And, as I’ve gotten older and more aware of human consequences to human actions, I don’t really get anxious about the future. Because for all intents and purposes if I’m tracking the decisions I make, I have enough foresight. Obviously I have a very keen sense of the impact and how my choices will have consequences. And so it’s very easy for me to show up and be present and to enjoy what’s happening. And I think as that relates to my presence, I get told I’m a calm person a lot.

I get told I’m really chill to be around. Sometimes it creates conflict with people. Because they’re like, why are you so chill? Do you not like us? What’s going on? And I’m like, no, I’m just really having time with my life all the time. There’s a level of confidence that comes with not worrying. Just not worrying, and that’s not something that I’ve ever had a problem with. I just tend to have joy.  I tend to show up with joy, and that helps me just focus on the work at hand.

I know I’m a procrastinator, so I schedule my procrastination. That helps where I’m going to want to put this off for two days, so I’m going to schedule this for two days later, and it gets done. I’ve learned how to learn. I learned how I learn. And so just being aware of that helps me be present and show up with good energy.

Is it fair to say that we go back to that idea of listening? And being present means you’re listening and there for others, there for your audience, believing in what you believe. Just simply being present so that you can listen. 

My wife’s getting her degree in counseling psychology, and so I call myself a secondhand psychologist. She hates that. She loathes that I say that, but it feels so right. She’s like, no, I’m doing the work. But she taught me about this phrase called narrative takeover, where like people explain things to you and in an attempt to relate, you’re like, here’s how I’ve gone through that exact same thing. But then you take over with your narrative. And since she explained that to me, I’m like hyper aware of it. And that has helped me in adulthood, because I’m in a place where I kind of do just have a lot of stories for everything, but I try not to share them unless I’m asked.

Do you think that’s the same as mansplaining, or as we like to say in our company, Jensplaining?  I don’t think so, because the heart behind it is to like, I want to relate to this person. I’m coming from a communication studies background. You have social penetration theory and it’s like the more someone else shares, the more you’re comfortable sharing. And so sometimes that happens in real time.

And it’s like, oh, you just told me this super, deep story. I’m not going to respond to that. I’m going to tell you a super, deep story. But they want that response. And so, I feel like mansplaining is just like, oh, you said something. I’m going to say it now too.

We say Jensplaining. That’s not me. I only Jensplain to JRT as far as I know. If there’s something different about that I want to know. And it’s because, I’m a processor. She processes and I’m like, here’s what she just said in 20 minutes will take me 30 seconds to repeat. So let me say it for you again in a quicker way.  But I’m trying my very best like you to listen and not do that.

Some people are YouTube shorts. Some people are like whole videos. So wait, what did you say? Some people are YouTube shorts. Some people are whole videos. So, you know, you can get a lot of value out of both of those. I’m the whole video, I’m the whole 90-minute session.  And you need both. We need both in the world. And you got cameras rolling everywhere. So, you’ll have both. There you go. Amen.

Your website says so much and I just want to read exactly what it says. Kansas City is reentering the global stage in sports and in tech. Heartland Arts KC aims to elevate KC’s arts and culture sector and again make KC a destination for creators from around the world.

I think that says so much about what is taking place here. To see so many of these entities in Kansas City. We’ve had a conversation with KC Current and their desire around their new stadium to bring arts and culture into it. So that when you come to the stadium, you’re experiencing a lot more than just the sport. And that’s me saying that as a non-athlete, right?

Or when I think about some of the work that we’ve seen within the healthcare. The healthcare partnering with the arts. Even though somebody like the two of you sitting here, you totally get how arts completely relates to health and wellbeing. But to some people, that’s new. But the synergies that exist here is strong and it’s powerful.

And I think for some of us, including myself, I still continue to question. Okay, there’s a reason why Jen and I were pulled here. I highly respect your vision for your work here at your nonprofit because it’s something that Jen and I are 100% behind. We need to all be looking at it through multiple lenses. That’s what we’re doing in our job is to go out and visit with people just like you and the Kansas City community. To say, okay, how are you using your voice to make change and what is our part to help make more of those connections to create that change in the city that we love? 

Yeah, so I’ll frame this with an explanation that got given to me is Austin, Texas is trying to be the new New York City and Kansas City is trying to be the new Austin, Texas. Oh, I haven’t heard that one. Yeah, that’s powerful. Austin, the thing that they have right now, they have a lot of things. But South by Southwest has become like a yearly experience and that has invited all these different industries.  It started just like a music thing, but now they have health, they have tech, they have education, they have so much.  Austin is also very quickly becoming one of the most expensive cities to live in. And so next up is Kansas City. Right now we’re pretty affordable. Right now, we have a lot of that same potential boiling under the surface.

I had a conversation with someone recently and I was like, what’s holding us back from being an Austin or a Chicago or a Nashville, even all these other markets with similar sizes. And he was like, I don’t know if we want that for Kansas City. And that really challenged me. Because I feel like since I’ve been back, I’m like Kansas City, we’re like that, you know.  We need to be in the conversation.

And now, he’s had me thinking because of the point he brought up. And this is with Alexi Savro.  Kansas City has so much authenticity right now, and a lot of just passion for the craft. Whether that is the craft of healthcare, the craft of the arts, you know, whatever it is. We don’t have as much industry and as much drive/motivation towards capital that these bigger cities do. And the second that gets introduced, the authenticity becomes something different. It becomes more competitive. It becomes more, I don’t know if cutthroat is the right word. It also attracts artists from other markets to be like, oh, if I can come up in Kansas City, then I can take it somewhere else. 

And I was reading, I think it was Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book. He was New York is like, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. And Chicago is like, if you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere. And Kansas City, I’m like, the thing I like is if you can make it in Kansas City, you’re halfway to anywhere because of our geography. You know, you’re halfway to anywhere.

And so that’s sort of been my mentality. There is a cap I think on what can happen in Kansas City as far as like opportunities. But it’s boundless in how you can develop as you’re in your craft. I mean, our theater scene is second in the Midwest, only to Chicago. We have a music scene that’s really coming up and there’s a lot of connections being made between here and Nashville. 

Some of the best film work, I mean, Jason Sudeikis is out of Kansas City. Ant-Man, Paul Rudd’s out of Kansas City. Morgan Cooper just made Bel-Air. He’s out of Kansas City. You got Janelle Monáe who was a finalist for Album of the Year a couple years ago out of Kansas City. It’s obvious that something is happening in Kansas City and there’s talent here. 

You know, whatever’s in the water, whatever they say. The talent is here and it’s just a question of practically do we bring entertainment lawyers here or not to make it like a location? Because that’s really the only thing that I’ve come to find separates us from a bigger market is there’s not the legal bureaucratic force behind the operation.

You’re a change maker. I’ve always known that about you. So then what solutions or advice would you have for individuals who are looking to create change in their spheres whether they’re in Kansas City or someplace else? Or just in a job and they want to create an influence change. What advice do you have?

When I was studying arts politics, the whole question was like, what is the relationship between art and politics? Is it one to one? Are they unrelated? Sort of the theory that I developed myself, is that there’s a one-to-one-to-one relationship between arts, politics, and performance in that performance is the way you understand yourself, politics is the way you understand the systems around you, and art is how you understand the totality of it all.

So, if you want to change any of those outputs, then you have to change one of those inputs. And so very much, you know, Michael Jackson, if you want to make the world a better place, look at yourself and make the change. That’s obviously sort of like the easiest input is changing your understanding of self.

I mean, even for me, there was a period between when I was going into my senior year of college, I think either junior or senior. I was living in an apartment and not a dorm. That’s the only way. But I was cooking, it was my senior year, because I was going vegan. I was cooking. And I burnt myself really badly on my wrist. I have this giant scar here now. And it was one of those life flashes before your eyes kind of moments. But all I could think about was just how rude I was to people. Like, I was very cocky, very egotistical, very, like… And I just embraced it, you know. I was successful at what I did from a young age, and so I was just always the cocky guy, and I just really leaned into that.

And I was like, I’ve just been really mean for a long time. And when I realized that, I was like, let me just try to be nice. And that opened up a lot in my life, just being aware of that. It’s very much been, the more I’ve changed, the more I’ve changed the systems around me. You know, leadership is a very innate thing.

I believe in people, okay? I believe in people. I was saying before we started recording, I’m an optimist. And I do think everyone is capable of change. I’m also a secondhand psychologist, like we said. The work is very difficult. Breaking bad habits is very difficult. Being the bigger person is very difficult.

You know, I study, I have a certificate in non-violence studies as well from Kansas State and reacting from a place of turn the other cheek, you know. If we want to be biblical about it, like really embodying this ethic of not trying to be a victor. To change things, people have to respect you. And you can either think that you bully your way to respect or just show up and be, like, a genuinely decent person.

Because the bar is really low for decency right now. The bar is on the floor for decency. And being able to know that, show up, be kind, meet people where they’re at, have real conversations. That’s how change is made, one person at a time. So anyone can make a change. Be nice. That’s how they can do it.

I feel very honored to have been watching that journey in your young life from someone who felt that they knew it all, to someone who showed up in my class probably your senior year as someone who is ready to sit there and listen and be open to other perspectives that were perhaps more privileged than your own.

Yeah, that’s one of the funny things. I took a class my freshman year and a class my senior year. That’s when I was a student for Jen. And she very much got the straight out of high school, like I’m here to take over. I could teach this class. I’m going to take over Kansas State University. Literally, there was a point in time where I called it my “Myhattan.”  That was my freshman year. That is you as a freshman. I get it. And then, you know, by the end, I won more national championships than our football team. So, it’s like you deserved “Myhattan.” Yeah, no, I’m humble.

Let’s go there though. You are an amazing public speaker. You have a beautiful creativity and your spoken word work is incredible. And the last time we spoke, I said, are you doing that? Because that’s a gift. So are you doing that? No. So, are you going to do that? So, okay, here’s my trajectory. Because of speech and debate, I developed the skill of performing other people’s words.

And then I was like, well, let me write my own words. And then I got good at performing poetry. And I was like, from a very like left brain point of view, it’s like the feedback you get is like ums and snaps. And it became very easy to just get that. It’s a performance thing. So I was like, well, let me go to comedy. And I did comedy for some time. And I’m like, you know, the feedback that you want is laughter. And I’m like, well, now I’m getting laughter. So in my artistic pursuit, I’m just trying to find different forms where the feedback is harder to get than spoken word or comedy. So, I’m playing around with different kinds of performance, just not specifically spoken word. 

If you don’t want ums, snaps or laughter, what do you want? I don’t know, just like profound change. Like profound psychological experiences. I don’t know. And it’s also being a youth pastor has also changed things.  Because I came to the faith later in life and just the way my motivation as an artist was very self-serving for a long time and now it’s not. So, I mean that’s where Heartland comes into. It’s like if the feedback that I get after shows is like, oh I watch this and now I want to go talk to my state representative. That’s a lot harder to pull off than a snap and an um. So, Heartland really fulfills a lot of my creative desires, and I’m not performing as much as I want to, but I’m directing and I’m looking for more opportunities to direct around the city.

I have a weird relationship with audiences right now, so we’ll see. We’ll see what happens. Well, you said, you’re not looking for ums, snaps, laughter anymore. You’re looking for change. And you also told us that change starts by looking in the mirror. Thank you, Michael Jackson. You’re looking in the mirror, you have evidence of creating change over time, from a young, possibly arrogant young man to someone who shows up with presence and listens to help others create change in a beautiful city. And change means policy and it means conversations and it means arts and sports and tech and healthcare and you are an instrument to that change. So, I just want to leave my part of this conversation by saying you’re doing exactly what you intended to do and I’m just am so honored to be with my business partner on this journey with you.

What I see happening here in Kansas City is people coming here for a bigger reason. And I leave that to the universe or something bigger than us and whatever somebody believes.  Because we know that we stepped away from a career to make change. And we had to go to a location where we could do that. I cannot explain it, but I’m here to be a part of something bigger. And then just be introduced to you and the many others. We’re all on board. And I know that I am not a secondhand psychologist. I’m not a trained actor in theater. But what I am is somebody that shows up to simply be present in the moment. The gifts that you have of how the spoken word and your intelligence to see change happening and your ability to do it in a way that I’ve learned so much from Jen, is you can do it in a way that people actually want to listen and be a part of. Don’t let that go for granted.  And I’m going to give you the same advice. Our biggest cheerleaders told us, go big. Just go big, Logan. Will do.

Logan, how can members of the Kansas City community and elsewhere support Heartland Arts and all of the things that you are doing? As a change maker.  I’m being really intentional about creating more work that’s not dedicated by place and space.

Our internet presence at Heartland Arts KC on YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn. Trying to put out more content there that facilitates more conversations. Of course, we’re a nonprofit, so financial support is great. And if you want to become a monthly donor, you know, if you want to sacrifice one Starbucks coffee a month, $5 a month goes a long way.  That’s all on our website, and you can keep up with my musings, at Logan Stacer on everything. And if you want to come to Awaken Church KC, add Awaken Church KC on everything, too. So that’s the full picture of me and my work right there.

We appreciate you so much. We are excited to see where it all takes you and to be in your corner along the way. And we appreciate your time today being on the Speak with Presence podcast. Yeah, thank you so much.


Jen V. & JRT

Jen Vellenga and Jennifer Rettele-Thomas are the co-founders of Voice First World®, a communication and executive coaching company. They train executives and leaders on the Presence Paradigm™, a communication technique created from Jen V’s decades of training actors to perform authentically, with presence, on stages, on audio, and video. If you want to learn more about how to speak and lead confidently, book a discovery call at

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Jen has been magical in helping me to identify my voice and my VOICE! The ways that she has holistically addressed my strengths and my areas of improvement have all made me feel so much more confident.

-Cate R.
Politician, Chicago, IL