What new beginnings…

North Boulder celebrates ‘transformation’ from strip club to affordable housing/artist space

0
Mmmwhah!, a nine-person cross-disciplinary collective, has partnered with several local groups, including the City of Boulder, to host a celebratory event welcoming the new affordable housing units and art space that will replace the Bustop Gentlemen’s Club in North Boulder.
Lisa Michot

After 42 years of topless and nude entertainment, the Bustop Gentleman’s Club in North Boulder has closed and is slated for demolition. In its place are plans to build 53 affordable housing units and 2,200 square feet of artist space.

Merlyn Holmes, founder of local nonprofit Mmmwhah! (Music, Movement, Mindfulness — whoa! and — Art) and former North Boulder Art District board member, was “thrilled” when she heard of plans for the space this spring.So when someone suggested a celebration her first thought was “we’ve got to have dance there!”

The result of which is a free music, dance and arts-filled event called “Transformation” to honor the occasion at the 4871 Broadway location on Saturday, Sept. 29. Holmes explains that the transformation theme refers not only to the site’s rebirth — developed by Allison Management and Thistle Housing and managed by North Boulder Art District — but the ongoing artistic happenings throughout North Boulder.

“How do we really think of this transformation, especially within the context of an art space and supportive housing for people like artists who aren’t necessarily earning a ton of money?” she asks. “How to take this transformation inward and evolve through it to essentially try to form a healthier community?”

Holmes has recruited several partner groups for the event, including North Boulder Art District, City of Boulder, Thistle Housing, Allison Management, Boulder Art Therapy Collective, Conscious Burlesque, BAHRI research unit in CU Boulder’s Department of Geography, Partners in Social Justice, and CU dancers.

“Transformation” will also usher in the creation of some fresh art. Boulder artist Jerry Shapins, a retired urban designer and landscape architect who sits on the board of North Boulder Art District, will guide the launch of a community art project where a construction fence will be the canvas for larger-than-life photographs of local residents to show, as he puts it, “the vernacular or the local character of North Boulder.”

Courtesy of Merlyn Holmes
Art from Mmmwhah! collective, which will be co-hosting an event to usher in a new affordable living/art space at the former location of the Bustop Gentlemen’s Club.

The majority of photographers will be locals, however Shapins says he’s also reaching out to artists across the country. At the top of his list is John Raymond Mireles, a San Diego photographer whose project “Neighbors” — a series of photos of his actual neighbors hung on the fence outside his home —inspired Shapins’ current work.

While Shapins acknowledges Boulder’s well-worn debates around housing and gentrification, for this particular installation, “We want to do something really positive, we don’t want to anything that’s polarizing.”

“We want to promote the idea of yes rather than no,” he clarifies. “It’s about unification.”

While many Boulderites are psyched about the new possibilities, the transition is not without its casualties.

Dalia, a Bustop dancer for more than five years, tells Boulder Weekly that while she and the other dancers had heard rumors of the club closing for years, they didn’t know for sure until their second-to-last night. Perhaps equally distressing was the fact that they only heard the news through a staff member who had been told by higher-ups to keep it secret.

“I literally just cried,” Dalia says. “And I was so sad I couldn’t make any money [dancing that night]. I couldn’t do anything.”

(Boulder Weekly was unable to reach former club owner, Omar Aldabbagh, for comment.)

Despite the circumstances, Dalia has nothing but kind words for her former place of employment. “The Bustop was like a family right away. They welcomed me in, the girls were like big sisters or something. … I didn’t expect it be such a close-knit group of people who actually care.

“The actual club, the actual people there, there was something really just magical about it,” she says. “Something really special.”

While most of the other dancers are now at other clubs, Dalia has yet to find work, though she’s exploring her options as a musician.

“The Bustop was really the only place that I wanted to work as a stripper,” she says. “It’s just so hard to go to all these clubs and for them to tell you that you’re too fat, or that you need to tone up, or that you need to do this or that.”

While the Bustop dancers are gone, the Broadway space hasn’t seen its last dance. Emily Duffy, aka Agent Sauvage, will perform at “Transformation” along with fellow members of Conscious Burlesque to “honor and celebrate all the dancers who have worked [at the Bustop] and help hold a threshold space for community members to come together during this transition.”

“I see stripping as a beautiful art form, and dancers work for years to hone their craft,” Duffy says via email. “A club can be a form of worship — a glimpse at something beyond the day-to-day.”

Artists in the Mmmwhah! collective

Duffy sees a lot of overlap between her burlesque act and the dancing that Dalia and others performed at the Bustop. She says that at Conscious Burlesque, “We hold profanity and sanctity at the same time and understanding that these aspects can coexist without negating one another.”

In a similar vein, Holmes points out that the Bustop was a commercially-viable business for a reason. “It would be too easy to say, ‘Oh, that was the shadow side of Boulder and we’re done with that,” she explained. “That would be way too easy of a way of not evolving as we need to evolve as a community.”

Instead of negating the past, Holmes sees “Transformation” as an opportunity to showcase all kinds of art, with the community simultaneously acknowledging the previous use of the space while forging a new path into the future.

“If we turn inward and look at our shadow side.. in a way that we can work with it, and integrate it, and possibly even embrace it,” Holmes ponders, “what new beginnings would come from that place?”

On the Bill: The Transformation of the Bustop Gentleman’s Club. 5 p.m. 4871 Broadway, Boulder. mmmwhah.com/transforming-bustop