Indian Hills woman pulling together DNC's opening act

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By Stephen Knapp

Exactly how Indian Hills resident Kerry Kurt found herself responsible for about half of Denver’s most coveted outdoor venue on the one day in history when much of the world’s attention will be focused there makes for a curious tale.

“It was not a simple, straightforward process,” says Kurt, 44. “It’s kind of amazing, when you think about it. I think it’s a spirit thing: energy, force, grace — whatever you want to call it.”

On Sunday, Aug. 24, just as thousands of delegates, dignitaries and assorted media types are pouring into downtown Denver — but are not yet preoccupied by Democratic National Convention business — Kurt will be the undisputed Queen of the city’s broad green heart: Civic Center Park. The Broadway side of it, anyway, all the way from the stately Greek theater to the tranquil reflecting pool.

“We’re calling it the People’s Convention,” Kurt says proudly. “It’s a chance for Colorado’s kids to share their voices through theatrical arts and to showcase all the nonprofits working out there.”

Wow. That sounds almost, well, democratic. And it almost didn’t happen.

Months ago, when the Denver Host Committee drew exclusive rights to Civic Center Park on the day before the convention kicks into gear, it decided that room should be made amid the frenzied goings-on for the state’s varied spiritual communities. A very-inclusive interfaith advisory committee was formed, granted a permit to use the park, and asked to come up with something appropriate and, hopefully, telegenic.

“I was on the advisory committee because of Unbound Grace,” explains Kurt, referring to the nascent nonprofit organization she founded in 2003 to address the physical, mental and spiritual needs of incarcerated women. “Most of the committee wanted to do some kind of indoor evening event, because a lot of the convention VIPs wouldn’t be getting in until later. I wanted to do something outdoors during the day that would be accessible to everybody.”

Alas, the interfaith committee made its plans in the heady atmosphere of spring, when big ideas were sprouting like new corn, the host committee was hip-deep in its own grandiose promises, and budget expectations grew ripe on little but high hopes and infinite enthusiasm. The anticipated riches never materialized, of course, and earlier this summer the host committee took one look at the extravagant, two-hour, $900,000 evening service proposed by Kurt’s colleagues and yanked their permit.

And that was the end of the People’s Convention, except that it wasn’t. The way Kurt had it figured, the host committee still had a giant stage at its disposal, a once-in-a-lifetime audience in the lobby, and nobody booked for the gig.

“I sent in a proposal about two months ago, and they said it’s exactly what they wanted.”

While that’s great news for Colorado’s youth, nonprofit and arts communities, to say nothing of several thousand early-arriving and inquisitive Democrats, it’s a tall order for a decidedly capable woman who finds herself pulled off the club circuit for an engagement at Madison Square Garden. Since getting the nod in early July, Kurt’s been signing on nonprofits and youth organizations at the rate of more than 25 a week, and she’s still gathering momentum. The Girl Scouts, Su Teatro, the Greenway Foundation, Project Hope, Denver School of the Arts, Cleo Parker, Casa Maya Heritage Foundation — she’s even arranged to kick off the remarkably interactive event with a wonderfully fitting Native American healing service to cleanse the park.

“All of these organizations need a place to show off, and I guarantee that everyone who takes our interactive walk will find at least one group or service that they’re a client of, that a relative is a client of, or that they’re interested in developing a relationship with.

“Politicians always say they’re all about change, but nothing ever changes. Change doesn’t happen from the top down; it happens from the bottom up. These kids, these nonprofits, these grassroots organizations are where real change will come from. I just hope the media covering the parade on Broadway turn around to see what real change looks like.”

Although Kurt’s nonpolitical convention is definitely a bargain for the host committee, not to mention the many exhibitors who’ll pay nothing for a world of positive exposure, there is no free lunch, and Unbound Grace isn’t exactly busting with spare cash. Topping her wish list: a proper stage and sound system with a price tag of about $130,000.

“If I had a staff to organize all this while I raised money, I’d have this budget covered by now, but it’s just me. It would be great if people would step up and help us do this right. This is an incredible opportunity, and we should put on the best face we can. I got a call from al Jazeera TV, the other day,” she says, by way of example. “It’s going to be a press-rich area.”

Speaking of incredible opportunities, representatives of the Guinness Book of World Records will be on hand to authenticate what could be a Colorado triumph that will shine long after the DNC packs up and leaves town.

“At noon, we’re going to try to break the world record for the most people doing the Electric Slide, and they’ll do the official count right there,” Kurt grins. “It’s Jacqui Shumway’s idea, except she calls it the ‘Chi-lectric Slide.’ She sees it as a nonviolent framework for interaction because there are no forward, aggressive movements.”

A noble endeavor, surely, and just one more example of how the People’s Convention transcends base politics to engage the world’s citizens at street level. And, even as the calendar pages fall toward Aug. 24 and Kurt works tirelessly to create magic from mayhem, she still marvels at the curious turn of fate that dropped Civic Center Park in her lap to begin with.

“Think of it — little baby Unbound Grace hosting all these nonprofits. Call it what you want,” she smiles. “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

To learn more about Unbound Grace, visit www.unboundgrace.org or call 303-587-5628.