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Cats have nine lives, and the cat’s first life began about five years ago at the Sidewinders Bar and Grill. What started as a showcase for gay and lesbian artists has now grown into a community center in its own right, serving the artistic, economic and social needs of marginalized populations in Albuquerque.
Several years ago, the venerable LGBTQIA + venue known as Sidewinders was taken over by the husband-and-husband team of Renato and Michael Estacio-Burdick. The duo transformed the bar’s dance floor into a cabaret space and started the Southwest Art Group, which evolved into the Sidewinders Cabaret, which evolved into the Black Cat Cabaret. The group’s goal was to bring LGBTQIA-friendly entertainment to the site. But the Estacia-Burdicks have seen this entertainment evolve over the years. In 2015, Sidewinders’ popular “Best Of” showcase involved “a comedian and 19 drag acts,” as Renato recalls. In 2016, the showcase consisted of “38% burlesque” with a mix of drag, belly dancing and singing. Renato, who performs drag under the stage name Renée Toya-Bouvier, remains dedicated to the traditional art of dragging, but now wants to elevate all art forms as Executive Director and Artistic Director of the all-new Black Cat Community. Center.
In 2019, Sidewinders was about to change. Showing its age, the historic bar was in serious need of improvement and repair. Instead of pouring about $ 250,000 into the original location on Central, near Wyoming, the Estacio-Burdicks decided to retire a “Jefferson” and upgrade their home base. They got hooked on a beautiful property at 4200 Central Ave. SE, formerly occupied by Martini Grill. But, just as plans were brewing for the new space, something called COVID popped up in early 2020. “We were all set to open on March 20. Then March 16 came along,” Renato recalls. Sidewinders, along with all other bars and restaurants in Albuquerque, have been closed.
Renato and Michael survived by transforming the new Sidewinders space into a “ghost kitchen” and creating a chain of food delivery services. Despite the struggles of the past year, the duo also managed to start working on another long-held dream: the creation of Black Cat Cultural Enterprises. The goal of this young non-profit organization is to “promote and support activities and organizations related to the advancement of LGBTQIA causes and activities”. These activities include “community organization, community center activities, social welfare, social activities, social improvement and education.”
In the fall of last year, the Estacio-Burdicks took over the space near the triangle Plaza of Nob Hill previously occupied by the company Aux Dog Theater (unfortunately another local victim of the pandemic). Located not far from the Albuquerque International District, the mission of the community center is to respond not only to LGBTQIA + locals, but also to international citizens and other “outside” groups. Basically, as Renato says, “anyone uncomfortable with traditional communities”. The center officially opened to the public in early May in a ceremony attended by Mayor Tim Keller, New Mexico Congressional District 1 candidate Melanie Stansbury and other local luminaries.
The space includes a fundraising thrift store, a lobby for local artists to set up and sell, and an education center with books, computers, desks and sheet music donated by a variety of organizations. local. One of the objectives is to provide a place for painters, sculptors, poets, actors, dancers, singers, etc. to practice their art. Over the years, booking shows at Sidewinders, the Estacio-Burdicks have worked with over 200 local artists, many of whom have returned to help with the new Black Cat. Another goal is to start a learning center to teach life skills, business, culture, music and other subjects. GED tutoring and student loan assistance are also available. Rento, who recently obtained a teaching certificate through APS, ultimately wants to create a full-fledged charter school for “disenfranchised and gender non-conforming students.”
The former Aux Dog Theater space is also being redeveloped. The stage has been modified to better accommodate artists with disabilities and to function more as a black box or “round theater”. The hope is to offer all services free of charge at the Black Cat Community Center. To achieve this goal, the center has already secured significant sponsorships and grants, including money from UNLV Fine Arts Alumni and the McCune Charitable Foundation to start a “gender non-conforming theater” group. Black Cat got two “playwrights in residence” and the actors are actively rehearsing Black Cat’s original first play. The staging centered on the pandemic by Maury Evans Through a window opens Friday, June 4 and will serve as a fundraiser for Black Cat.
For now, Michael is focused on operating the recently reopened Sidewinders and Renato oversees the Black Cat Community Center. But their goal, as Rento puts it, is “in five to 10 years both will be eliminated”. They want the center to be “completely community-based”, to choose its own goals and define its own agenda. The centre’s board of directors, made up of a diverse group of people and organizations, is due to hold its first meeting on Sunday, June 4. To learn more about Black Cat Cultural Enterprises and the Black Cat Cultural Center, visit nmbc-cc.org.