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The re-opening of this old theatre speaks to the human condition. Here’s why:

Why does the re-opening of an old Northwest Denver theatre (Elitch Gardens) speak to the human condition?

I remember trying to get Coloado’s Legislature and its powerful Joint Budget Committee (JBC) to recind a cut to a statewide organization that stabilzed fragile families. The head of the JBC told me that their work was “nice, but not essential.” That struck a sour cord with me. For years, I had witnessed the fantastic array of nonprofits doing all types of service and adding value to their communities, to the nation and globe. But these organizations, for all of their good work, flew below the radar. The vague notion of “civil society” and the reality that the sector was often called the “Third Sector” – I call it the “Hidden Sector. Yet, without it, we’d be screwed. Our lives would be compromised, our safety in shambles, the dimension of exchange dramatically dampened – from the big plays of the large organizations to the quiet acts of a small organization’s few staff and volunteers going about their work.

Last night, a historic amusement park’s old location and the remaining old theatre, was rekindled after being dormant for years. Local citizens rallied to reburbish the old theatre, invite playrights and actors and theatre volunteers to stage their first read of three nights of plays. The audience will vote on a play they wish to advance to be the fully produced production next summer. Essential? Maybe not specifically. But essential in the over all aspect of life that we have places that allow for assembly and expression. And the final play, be it a whimsical farce or a profound statement of the human condition, it doesn’t matter. But what does matter is that this and thousands of other expressions make the world just a bit more sane and yes, essential.

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Take a broader, but still small example. On my street, Tennyson in Northwest Denver, there has been a rush of new restaurants – it is a “trendy” neighborhood. But also along it are a number of expressions of how nonprofits play a significant role: Cesar Chavez School, the Cat Cafe (serving coffee and saving cats/kittens), numerous arts/artisan expressions, a children’s play center, Planned Pethood (soon to be featured on Animal Planet), the Tennyson Center serving abused children, Berkeley Park Neighborhood Association, Arrupe School, the Argyle that serves low-income elders and on and on. And walking by Cesar Chavez Park, created by a citizen’s initiative to honor an activist, the bust of Chavez stands right next to a playground drawing hundreds of families and the realization that human rights groups continue to challenge inequity and child abuse internationally. We are better off with the broad array of how we assemble, express, react, challenge, create, serve.

I can predict that based upon our research that if I stopped the scores of people who frequent the neighborhood’s attractions, that few would know about any “civil society” organizations or the talent it takes to run them. But the evidence is also strong, that without these organizations and their cumulative impact, this would not be a neighborhood, but a strip mall. Why is something so essential to the lifeblood of our nation so overlooked? It is merely essential to our well-being, for be it the small and quiet dignity of respectful care given to an elder or the international activism of a human or environmental rights organization, or a play in a local community run theatre make our world a bit more sane.

– Jeff Pryor

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