Longform

All the World's Her Stage

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Sometimes she's even a little free with the financial facts. EDEN's budget has averaged $40,000 for the last several years, but Walker often inflates that budget in her proposals to try to get more money from potential contributors. She knows she won't get whatever she asks for, so she sees no point in asking for what she really needs. "Corporations will give you less if you say you need less," she explains. "They play games with me, I play games right back."

But these games are in the minor leagues, while other Denver groups play in the majors. Cleo Parker Robinson, whose Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble is almost a decade younger than EDEN, shows up in the papers on a regular basis. Robinson recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive a $10,000 award from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities; her company is scheduled to perform in Jerusalem in November.

Here at home, the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble has also received financial rewards. Although it's moved back and forth between the lower two tiers in the three-tiered SCFD funding scheme, in 1998, when it was funded in the same tier as EDEN, it received $30,450 in SCFD support.

"It's exciting to know she's still making it happen," says Robinson of Walker, at the same time suggesting that comparing the two groups may not be appropriate. "I never felt she was in competition. I felt she was very special, very different. I never felt she was trying to be somewhere else. We were always striving to be national, international. I think she knew she wanted to be community-based. I think she was really true to that."

Still, Walker can't help but notice the different support levels. And although Robinson's company does perform internationally, Eulipions is Denver-based. Very Denver-based: The group received almost $2 million in loans and grants to purchase the massive El Jebel Temple downtown, a deal that's fast unraveling ("Playing to an Empty House," October 5). Walker, who will never see a tenth of that funding, used to resent the success of these groups. But that only made her "lose energy," she says.

She has the future to plan -- the future of an organization that sometimes only makes sense with her as its head. "She tries to do too much and wear too many hats," Martinez observes, adding that after 37 years, it can be "kind of hard to turn the reins over." Friends and longtime associates glow with praise for Walker, but when the topic turns to EDEN's long-term prospects, they quiet down. "It's sad to think that when Lucy Walker goes, EDEN goes with her," says Nickelson. "That makes me sad."

But Walker's not about to go anywhere right now. She has her ongoing campaign to battle the SCFD board for funds. Next month EDEN will hold auditions for its upcoming production, The Green Pastures, which is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the first black musical to be staged on Broadway. That production is set for a two-weekend run in February at the Temple Events Center. After that, Walker will keep busy teaching theater at elementary schools around town. "That satisfies me," she says. "I don't need to put on major productions...but I will."

She's already planning EDEN's 38th anniversary party in September 2001.

Walker recently traveled to St. Louis, on a $700 grant from the Colorado Council for the Arts, to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Black Theater Network. She's proud of that award, much prouder than she is of a recent $2,600 grant from the Mayor's Office of Art, Culture and Film. EDEN, one of 38 arts groups honored, was selected because "they are a long-term Denver organization that's well respected for their work with youth," says Donna Smith, performing-arts coordinator with the mayor's office.

EDEN has been a recipient of that grant since 1993 - a fact that's not lost on Walker. It's not enough money to keep her group going, not enough to fund her vision, but it does have benefits - for the City of Denver. And so Walker always sends someone white to collect the grant, to foil any attempt by Mayor Wellington Webb to stage a "We Are the World" style photo op.

"I don't want no black people in the picture," Walker says, then adds, "Isn't that mean?"

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T.R. Witcher