2015 BRIO Awards Presentation
at Longwod Art Gallery @ Hostos

The 2015 BRIO Awards Presentation on June 10th filled the Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos with the proud friends and family of the 25 new BRIO winners (pictured above) who entered the fold this year. The event marked the 26th anniversary of BCA and BRIO celebrating artistic excellence in the Bronx since 1989.

Pictured with the BRIO winners: BCA Executive Director Deirdre Scott (far left) and BCA's BRIO Administrator Lydia Clark (far right).


Rachel Ansong |  Poetry

In 2005, Rachel Ansong exchanged the Accra sun for the New York City moon. Although she found this ‘between two cultures’ to be very difficult, because she was only 12 years old and could not return home because of her “undocumented” status, she was able to discover her passion in writing. Rachel used writing as a way to cope with and establish roots in her new surroundings. She continues to cultivate this passion at City College, drawing inspiration from the narratives her grandmother told her as child in Ghana. As a poet, Rachel would also like to become a teacher of the discipline, sharing with others the power of expression in discovering their identity and overcoming challenges. She believes her grandmother’s narratives do not end with her. She wants the fragrance of her mixed culture, her ever-broadening knowledge and her passionate perspectives to linger out in the world.

April Armstrong |  Story Telling

April Armstrong is a storyteller, actress and singer. A featured teller at Clearwater Revival, Mohegan l and Connecticut College Festivals, she has told stories for schools, colleges, libraries and museums in the NYC Tri-State area; California, Florida, Georgia; Negril, Jamaica and Bali, Indonesia. Throughout the year, April’s a regular at Historic Hudson Valley’s Philipsburg Manor for “Pinkster Celebration” and Washington Irving’s Sunnyside at “Legends” festival. April wrote and performs Two Wings to Heaven the Story of Bessie Coleman, a one-woman show about black aviatrix, and is one of writers of the bestselling book The Big Moo. April’s theatre career includes Broadway National Tours, Off-Broadway, and regional theaters throughout the USA; and a recurring character on Law & Order: SVU. She can be heard singing in the film Washington Square. April’s debut CD, The Cat Came Back: Stories and Songs with a Jazzy Twist is available on CDBaby and

Jose Batista-Ayala   |  Spoken Word

After moving to NYC in 2005, with no formal training in anything related to theater, Jose began acting, writing and dancing (salsa) for an off-Broadway urban sketch comedy group. “We were like ‘In Living Color’, but better and I was like JLO, but better”. In 2007, he ventured off on his own to write, produce and direct his first play called FRiENDAMiGO about a group of gay friends from Washington Heights. Jose took what he knew about being gay and Dominican and created an LOL comedy experience for his audience. After a break from theater, he brought FRiENDAMiGO back in 2013, bigger & better. Since then he’s done his one-man variety show DRUNK ON LOVE and wrote a piece about gay cruising called The Cruising Monologues. His current show POETR OMEDY: A One-Man Dramedy combines his comedy & poetry in a unique way. It debuted in February 2015 at BAAD! (Bronx Academy of Arts & Dance).

Igor Begelman  |  Instrumental Music Performance

Exhilarating virtuosity and imagination that compliment his “gracious sense of style and excellent musical personality” have become trademarks for clarinetist Igor Begelman. Winner of the Avery Fisher Career Grant, the award given to outstanding American artists, he has performed recitals and as a soloist with orchestras across all continents. Equally accomplished as a chamber musician, Mr. Begelman has performed with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and at festivals throughout the world including Marlboro, Caramoor, Moab, Tanglewood and Schleswig-Holstein. Aside from performing the traditional literature of the clarinet repertoire, as well as numerous transcriptions, he has premiered compositions by many of today’s leading composers. Mr. Begelman has served as a Professor of Clarinet at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and currently teaches at Brooklyn and Sarah Lawrence Colleges.

Philip Bell  |  Documentary Film / Video

Born in New York City, Philip Bell’s early interest in painting and fine arts created an important base upon which his filmmaking developed. He studied Computer Art at the School of Visual Arts until his ongoing interest in photography drew him into a different career. After seven years as a freelance photographer he transitioned from still to moving image and has since worked as a cinematographer, editor and director on both short and long form projects. Philip resides in the Bronx, dividing his time between commercial work, personal projects and collaborations.

Tyrone Birkett  |  Instrumental Music Performance

Tyrone Birkett is a saxophonist, composer and producer. His current recording with his group Tyrone Birkett Emancipation titled "Postmodern Spirituals: The Promised Land” is the first endeavor to showcase his Postmodern Spirituals concept. The Negro Spiritual revived and refreshed through jazz language, 70s soul music and black church music. As a saxophonist, Tyrone Birkett has synthesized his mentorship by jazz saxophone greats Frank Foster and Budd Johnson, years toiling in black church sanctuaries and soul-jazz into a distinctive fusion. Tyrone has brought his music to venues including the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Schomburg Center for Black Culture, The Greene Space at WYNC, Lehman Center for the Performing Arts at Lehman College, the U.N., Montreal Convention Centre, Bermuda and Europe. He attended JHS 125 and Adlai Stevenson HS where won the John Philip Sousa Band and Louis Armstrong Jazz Awards respectively and attended the Aaron Copland School at Queens College.

Tamara Cashour  |  Music Composition

Tamara Cashour is a composer of song cycles, piano music, chamber music, music theatre, incidental music and sacred music for organ and choir. A multi-year ASCAPlus Composer Award winner 2008-2015, and was first place winner of the 2008 For Women Only Choral Composition competition. Her compositions have premiered in major NYC venues as well as nationally and internationally, including Symphony Space, Queens College LeFrak, St. Peter’s Citicorp, Brandeis University, Columbia University, 47th St. Theatre and Rome, Italy. Ms. Cashour enjoys a professional career as a collaborative pianist with a Carnegie-Weill where she debuted as a recitalist in 2002 and is a member of New York Composers Circle. Since 2008, she’s been a vocal collaborative pianist at Mannes College of Music; Her US regional opera musical director credits include Lake George Opera and Natchez Opera; She has been Music Director/Organist/ Composer-in-Residence, Presbyterian Church/New Rochelle and Rehearsal Accompanist to the Bronx Concert Singers. Tamara received her BA from Columbia University and her MA from NYU.

Derrick Michael Charles  |  Illustrated Text

Born in 1985 in the Bronx, Derrick Michael Charles is an African-American comic book writer currently living in the Coop City section of the Bronx. Graduating from Lehman College in 2008 with a degree in Business Administration and a minor in Black Studies, Derrick never officially pursued writing academically. Instead, he became interested in the field of writing in the years following his graduation when he rediscovered his love reading through fantasy novels and comic books. He began working on his first story, Ninja Express, in 2009 as a solo work. In 2010, Derrick began collaborating with Pronto Comics, producing the story Cold Night and forming his partnership with Ninja Express artist Drake Tenta. Derrick also wrote one issue of a comic titled "Ruin" and he is currently working on moving into children's books and novels.

Ilana Davidson  |  Vocal Music Performance

Grammy Award-winning soprano Ilana Davidson enjoys a busy singing career. She recently made her third appearance at Carnegie Hall in a lead role with the American Symphony in Max Von Schilling’s Mona Lisa. Her recording Songs of Innocence and of Experience with Maestro Leonard Stalkin won six Grammy Awards in 2006. She has sung with major symphonies and opera companies throughout Europe and North America. This summer she reunited with Maestro Keith Lockhart at the Brevard Music Festival in Mahler’s 4th Symphony and Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate. Ilana has given numerous world premieres and is a crusader for the works of Ernst Krenek (1900-1991). She frequents the baroque and early music repertoire and has recently represented the famous “Girl with the Pearl Earring” in repertoire of the 16th century baroque with Ars Antiqua. She is the Artistic Director of the classical chamber music series in Riverdale called ClassicalCafé.

Heidi Johnson  |  Painting

Heidi Johnson was born in Providence, Rhode Island. While attending Tufts University for her undergraduate studies, she attended The School of the Museum of Fine Arts School, Boston, MA. Her work has always been an inquiry into personal perceptions and experiences of time and memory. While traveling extensively throughout Southeast Asia and India, her work became heavily influenced by Tibetan Thangka paintings, their ideas of simultaneity and ordering of space-everything, all at once. She noticed the same concept of simultaneity in Dutch still life, and fast-forward to now...the moving three-dimensional collage world of contemporary society. She currently lives and works in the Mott Haven area of the Bronx.

Jon Lewis-Katz  |  Fiction

Jon Lewis-Katz was born in Los Angeles to a West Indian mother and a Jewish father, and has made his home in New York City for most all of his adult life. His writing has appeared in New Walk, Los Angeles CityBeat, the Pasadena Weekly, the Ventura County Reporter, and The Trinidad Guardian. He has received a Charles Pick Fellowship, an Alonzo Davis Fellowship and a BRIO award from the Bronx Council on the Arts. He has also completed residencies at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Paden Institute and Retreat. At present, he is an Assistant Professor at Bronx Community College and is at work on a collection of stories about West Indians and West Indian-Americans in New York City.

Steven Lubin  |  Instrumental Music Performance

In the past few seasons, pianist Steven Lubin has performed as concerto soloist or recitalist in England, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Italy, Finland, Ukraine, Australia, Taiwan, Japan, and all across North America. He has appeared as soloist in many of the world's great concert halls, including Avery Fisher, Alice Tully, Barbican Center, and Kennedy Center, and in major international festivals, such as Lufthansa, South Bank, Regensburg, Colmar, Utrecht, La Roque d'Anthéron, Aranjuez, Ravinia, Espoo, Mostly Mozart, and Mainly Mozart. He has performed with the National Symphony, the Odessa Philharmonic, the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, the St. Paul and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestras, the Taipei Symphony Orchestra, the Academy of Ancient Music of London, the Wiener Akademie, Il Fondamento and many others. He has recorded twenty CDs, mostly for major labels, and has received critical approbation worldwide for his artistry, musical originality and technical excellence.

Ruth Marshall  |  Craft

Ruth Marshall hand knits pelts of exotic endangered animals. Each of her one-of-a-kind textiles represents an individual animal she researches at various institutions. Ruth was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. With a Master of Fine Arts degree from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NYC, she joined the Wildlife Conservation Society / Bronx Zoo in 1995 and worked there for fourteen years as an exhibit sculptor. Her work has been covered in the press and exhibited at museums including MASS Art in Boston, Museum of Arts & Design in NYC and the National Wool Museum in Geelong, Australia. Articles and books include The New York Times, VOGUE Knitting, and Surface Design Magazine, Textiles: The Art of Mankind by Mary Schoeser, Thames & Hudson 2012, and her own book, Vanished into Stitches, available on Amazon. Currently residing in the Bronx, Ruth teaches at the School of Visual Arts.

Chiseche Salome Mibenge  |  Non-Fiction

Chiseche Salome Mibenge is a professor of political science at City University of New York where she  teaches human rights and international law. Her book Sex and International Tribunals: The Erasure of Gender from the War Narrative was published in 2013 by University of Pennsylvania Press. She is writing her second book, a collection of short stories chronicling her life as a human rights researcher and citizen of the Bronx and beyond.

Arnaldo Morales  |  Sculpture

Arnaldo Morales was born in 1967 in Ponce, Puerto Rico, now living in New York since 1996. He holds a BFA from Escuela de Artes Plásticas de San Juan. His work has been presented internationally at Kunsthalle Winterthur (Switzerland), Sala Plaza de España (Madrid), Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe (Valencia), Centro Cultural de Arte Contemporánea (Mexico DF), Museo d’Arte Provincia di Nuoro (Sardinia) and The Living Art Museum (Reykjavik); nationally in Houston, San Francisco and Hartford at such venues and NYC’s White Box, and Lehman College Art Gallery; and across Puerto Rico. He has been awarded residencies at Kohler Arts/Industry (WI, 2008), Islip Art Museum Carriage House (NY, 2006) and Franconia Sculpture Park (MN, 2002); fellowships from the NYFA (2001) and Joan Mitchell Foundation (2000); and a commission from the Public Art Fund (1997).

Antoinette Mullins  |  Playwriting

Antoinette Mullens started her literary work at Off-Broadway Theatre, Urban Stages, in 2010 after completing her master’s work in Dramatic Writing at NYU’s graduate school in Singapore, Tisch Asia School of the Arts. Previously, she graduated from Vasser College with a BA in Psychology and Film. Her works include her 2009 short play Love and Robbery which was published in Drama: A Resource for Units 1A-1B, a textbook aimed at promoting drama in Australian high schools. Her screenplay Mega was a semi-finalist in the 2012 Nicholl Fellowship and a 2013 finalist in The Austin Film Festival. Brave Girl, a short-film she co-wrote, brings light to trafficking in Nepal It was awarded Official Selection in South by Southwest and Best Short Film in Palm Springs International Shortfest. Her educational play Up & Up: The Story of Dr. Mae Jemison tours New York City via Urban Stages’ Outreach.

José Olivarez   |  Poetry

José Olivarez, the son of Mexican immigrants, was born in Calumet City, IL, and currently resides in the Bronx. He is a graduate of Harvard University, the Poet-Linc Manager for Lincoln Center Education, an Urban Word NYC Mentor and an editor at Painted Bride Quarterly. He has performed and taught at high schools, universities and book festivals across the country His work has been published or is forthcoming in The BreakBeat Poets, The Acentos Review, Specter Magazine, Side B Magazine, Union Station Magazine, and Luna Luna Magazine. His work has also been featured on Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie basketball blog, Chicago Public Radio and on Mass Poetry’s PoeTry on the T program. His first book Home Court is now available to purchase.

Nelson Pena  |  Narrative Film / Video

Nelson Pena, a versatile writer/director of Dominican descent, was born and educated in New York City. A graduate of the City College of New York film program, he’s mostly interested in relating human stories the kind that tug-at-the heart and have long-lasting staying power. Some of Nelson’s favorite films include Vera Drake, Mean Streets, Bicycle Thief, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Do the Right Thing. On-and-off, for a period of two years, Nelson shot A South Bronx Family, a feature length documentary that spotlights a struggling half Dominican and half Puerto Rican family that resides in the Melrose Projects one of the poorest public tenements in all of the South Bronx. Since completing the above, Nelson has kept busy writing and directing short films. Loco Amor, one of his shorts, has gone viral, having received over 300,000 hits on YouTube.

Penny Prince  |  Music Composition

Dr. Penny Prince is a composer, lyricist, pianist and educator. She is a professor of music at Lehman College, City University of New York, where her interests include music education and collaborative musical theatre. Dr. Prince holds degrees in piano and music education from Manhattan School of Music and NYU. She has written over 200 musicals, in which she collaborates on the scripts with students ages 6-100, and for which she has won fourteen ASCAP merit awards. She is an active presenter and panelist in all things musical and serves the community with her writing and activism.

Amy Pryor  |  Mixed Media

Amy Pryor works in a variety of media, including collage, painting, printmaking and installation, to create works that reflect on contemporary society. She often incorporates data, maps and imagery from aerial photographs into visual-verbal works that explore the intersections of commerce and culture and that are suggestive of constructed landscapes. Pryor has exhibited at numerous venues including The Bronx Museum of Art, The Islip Museum, the New Haven Museum, Bronx River Art Center, Mulberry Street New York Public Library, the Bronx Library Center, Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos, Seton Art Gallery at the University of New Haven, 92Y TriBeCa, Gallery 18 at the Riverdale YM-YWHA, and Frans Masereel Centrum in Belgium. She is an alumna of the Bronx Museum of Art's Artist-in-the-Marketplace (AIM) program and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Pryor received an MFA in Painting/Printmaking from Yale University in 2001.

Abdul Rasheed  |  Choreography

Abdul Latif Rasheed received his BS from Wesleyan University and his MFA from NYU. He was a scholarship recipient of Alvin Ailey and Joffrey Ballet School, a directing fellow at T. Schrieber Acting Studio and a member of Donald Byrd’s “The Group” and Jennifer Muller’s “The Works”. His two-time TONY Award Broadway credits include The Lion King and Hairspray. He was a choreographer for The Beatnuts music video Off The Books; Opera Assistant/Choreographer for Broadway Cares' Gypsy of The Year and for The St. Jude Foundation Spring Gala. He was a Resident/Founding Choreographer of The Muller Works; Legacy Project Residency/Choreographer for Fortaleza, Brazil's Jose Alencar Festival and part of the Kansas City Swing production for the University of Kansas City and Crossroad Theater; Rockefeller Brothers Fund Co-architect and Founding Fellow for Lincoln Center Institute's Artist-in-Residence/Artist Mentoring Lab; Career Transitions and John Cage Grant Recipient/ Choreographer of Harlem Opera Theater's Benjamin Britten’s opera.

Christy Speakman  |  Photography

Christy Speakman was born and raised in New Orleans and New York City-based since 2005. Working in photography, collage and digital media, her work explores the interconnectedness and impermanence found at the boundaries of nature and urban life. Recent work has been exhibited at Cuchifritos Gallery in the Essex Street Market, Bronx River Art Center, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Chashama, Art in Odd Places, Prospect 1.5 in New Orleans, Webster University in the Netherlands and Art in Lobby in Argentina. She has participated in artist residencies at the LMCC, the Santa Fe Art Institute, Oregon College of Art, A Studio in the Woods, and the Bronx Museum of the Arts’ Artist in Marketplace #29. She  has received grants from the Joan Mitchell Foundation and Bronx Council on the Arts. Speakman holds a BA in Art from the University of New Orleans and an MFA in Photography from Ohio University.

Edwin Torres  |  Photography

Edwin J. Torres is an emerging photographer, born and raised in the Hunts Point area of the South Bronx. He attended Colby College under the Posse Program, where he received a 2008-2012 full-tuition leadership scholarship. He majored in American Studies and became dedicated to telling stories about his community in the Bronx. After graduation, he focused on telling his families' story about the Puerto Rican Diaspora. He enjoys the use of the camera as a tool to communicate emotionally, exercise artistic literacy and bring to light issues that have poor representation. Edwin's work has been published in The New York Times, The Global Post, The Leica Blog,,, and Fototazo. He currently works as a freelance photographer for The New York Times and is a curator for the Everyday Bronx Instagram feed. He frequently volunteers time at the Bronx Documentary Center.

Donald Vega  |  Instrumental Music Performance

Donald Vega was trained classically in piano in his native Nicaragua, emigrating to the United States at age 14. He was fortunate to find his first home in music at the Colburn School of Performing Arts and continued to study jazz with bassist John Clayton at USC. He graduated from Manhattan School of Music and The Juilliard School where he studied with piano great Kenny Barron. Vega currently performs internationally as the pianist for world-renowned bassist Ron Carter. Mr. Vega also sits on the board of BackCountry Jazz, a non-profit organization which provides music education programs and performances to underprivileged youth. Vega has released two albums to date: Tomorrows and Spiritual Nature. His third album, a Tribute to Monty Alexander, will be released on the Resonance Record label in 2015.

A. A. Weiss  |  Non-Fiction

A. A. Weiss works as a foreign language teacher after having lived in Ecuador, Mexico and Moldova, where he served in the U. S. Peace Corps. Excerpts from his work-in-progress memoir have appeared in Hippocampus, 1966, Drunk Monkeys, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Gravel, Eunoia Review, and Pure Slush. His essay “A Gun Story” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.




2015 BRIO Award Winners


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Funding for BRIO is provided by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs-Greater New York Arts Development Fund.

Additional funding is provided by the NYS Council on the Arts, Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation, and BCA’s membership program.





A successful night was in the bag as BCA and BRIO Cafe presented an evening of poetry and tea at Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos in April 2015. BRIO provided the poets and Serengeti Teas & Spices provided the tea.

Pictured (l. to r.): BCA BRIO Administrator Lydia Clark; BRIO winners and poets Judith Baumel, Sarah Stern and Matthew Thorburn; BCA Grant Administrator Sabrina Cedeno; and BCA Executive Director Deirdre Scott.


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