Just over a year after opening its doors, the New Mexico Black Cat Cultural & Community Center is paving paths for community members to find their passion for performance in an LGBTQ-friendly sober space. Partnering with a battery of other local nonprofits in the Albuquerque area, New Mexico Black Cat is working to provide a comprehensive curriculum in the arts to all.
The community center was opened in 2021 by Michael and Renato Estacio-Burdick. The two first opened local gay bar Sidewinders, but were inspired to create a space for those in the LGBTQ+ community who were not yet 21. It was through their work at Sidewinders that the two came to realize the need for more queer safe spaces in Albuquerque.
“The center came out of my husband’s love for entertainment … (The facility) had been closed and so we were gonna reopen the facility as a place for gay youth and nonbinary youth so that they would have a place to go to learn acting, to learn singing, to learn different parts of the arts,” Michael Estacio-Burdick said.
The center is a 100% community-funded, volunteer-based queer arts center, complete with a 100-seat theater space, dance hall and soon-to-be art gallery which is currently being renovated. On top of providing lessons in a variety of artistic disciplines, the center has also been working to provide academic tutoring to its community members as well as a voice studio. The center’s acting studio partner, Actors Studio 66, regularly puts on plays through the theater with a special focus on putting together shows with nonbinary roles.
Though the space is built specifically with creating an LGBTQ+ safe space in mind, New Mexico Black Cat board member Ravenesque Noire emphasized that the community center is open to all, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. More than anything, they are focused primarily on creating a space for people to pursue their craft.
“We want a space that allows for LGBT individuals to feel safe and comfortable and really just include everyone,” Noire said.
The board struggled to get off the ground amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In deciding whether to continue on, the group determined that a safe space was needed now more than ever. Michael Estacio-Burdick is pleased to see that, after running completely through pandemic years, community members are finally feeling comfortable enough to gather and participate in the space.
“COVID happened, and we said ‘Even more, we need it now. We need some sort of hope to give people, to show them that when this is all over they still have a home,’ and somehow we managed to keep the doors open for a year, so I think we’re doing it,” Noire said.
Through the center, Michael Estacio-Burdick said that they hope to provide opportunities to those who may have not previously had an outlet to perform and find ways to improve their craft and find their way in life. Already, the couple has helped many find a home and rediscover their love of the arts through their projects at Sidewinders, including the cabaret which Noire met the pair through.
“I joined this group before the Black Cat as a center was brought to fruition. I was a performer and I had joined the choir, and I found a home after I had been through some really horrible situations and I didn’t know how to exist, I didn’t know how to be around people and how to survive. And you know what (Renato) said; he says to me ‘Who are you? Oh yeah, you can have a show here.’ And he gave me a chance that no one even told me how to find, and I fell in love with performing again,” Noire said.
Now, Noire provides resources at the community center; she said Renato Estacio-Burdick chose to bring her on the board because she was “not afraid to tell him no.” Currently, she is taking the lead on the organization’s newly formed youth leadership program.
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Eventually, Renato Estacio-Burdick, an Albuquerque Public Schools teacher by day, hopes to transform the center into an arts magnet school for LGBTQ+ youth who feel left behind in the typical education structure. At any rate, the couple will continue to inspire many through their infectious passion for performance.
“Our coming out stories were very easy … but as we got to know other people we got to see how they were kicked out of their houses, how they were put out on the street at the age of 14. We can’t do everything but we can help … we decide(d) to do it in a way we know how to do it,” Michael Estacio-Burdick said.
Zara Roy is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle