Staff & Teaching Artists

STAFF

Omar Torres-Kortright

Executive Director

Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center

Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Omar Torres-Kortright has been working as a music promoter in Chicago since 2003 when he founded Agúzate, an organization dedicated to the promotion of independent Latin music in Chicago with an emphasis on Afro-Latin culture. Through Agúzate, Omar collaborated and co-curated events with the most distinguished international music programmers in Chicago, including Old Town School of Folk Music, Sound Culture, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, and Hothouse.

After extensive management experience in the field of Language Services in healthcare with Lurie Children’s Hospital (2004-2015), Omar decided to work more closely with the Puerto Rican community and the cultural sector. He joined SRBCC as Executive Director in 2015 after serving five years on the Board of Directors. Torres-Kortright is a product of the center, going from music student, to volunteer, Board member, and now Executive Director.

Under Torres-Kortright’s leadership, with the organization facing monumental challenges, SRBCC created the Chicago Hurricane Aid for Puerto Rican Arts, served as leading organization and fiscal sponsor for  the Puerto Rican Agenda’s 3R’s for PR Campaign (Rescue, Relief, Rebuild), organized a series of arts-focused  COVID-19 vaccination events for youth, produced the Abrazo Virtual Series to keep arts in the community alive during the pandemic, and earned the prestigious MacArthur International Connections Fund award in 2016 and 2019, as well as Chicago Cultural Treasures in 2021. This 2021 new funding allowed SRBCC to make significant improvements to its home base in Hermosa and launch a brand new series of arts education initiatives, as well as life-changing opportunities for profesional artists of color, including artist-in-residence and international exchange programs. Omar currently sits on the Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Council and is part of the 2022 Chicago Peace Fellows cohort.

 

Brenda Torres-Figueroa

Director of Educational Programs

Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center

Brenda Torres-Figueroa is an interdisciplinary artist, curator and art educator.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Brenda works primarily in performance art, installations, and public art. 

In 2000 she graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, and soon after moved to Chicago to pursue her MFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Brenda is also an alum of Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2002) and has participated in collective exhibitions and performance installations in both Puerto Rico and Chicago.

Brenda served as a curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Santurce from 2006 to 2008. After returning to Chicago in 2008, Brenda has been devoted to her art education practice and curatorial research, raising her two daughters, and branding her designs through Freedom Effect, LLC. In 2012, she started her bomba research and practice journey through an interdisciplinary lens. In 2015, she co-produced the music video “Candela” with Bomba con Buya a collaboration that preceded dozens of original designs honoring bomba tradition, resistance, cimarronaje and African Roots. 

In 2018, as her homeland recovered from the devastation caused by Hurricane María she began the process of restaging and curating almost two decades of unedited work that questions the loss, grief, and resistance of the idea of home as contextualized through her recent exhibition series, Dressed as Home and Refuge. 

In addition, Torres-Figueroa has been an arts educator since 2000 and licensed teacher (Visual Arts K-12) in the state of Illinois since 2012. Her extensive training in the arts has enabled her to teach full time, design curriculum and lead professional development for educators since 2008.

She taught Visual Arts and Culture for eight years at Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School, and became the Mission and Vision and Community Chair. 

In 2016, Brenda transitioned to The Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) to facilitate the Integrated Arts courses. At ChiArts, she occupied multiple roles: Professional Learning Community (PLC) Lead from 2019 to 2021. In 2021, she served as Professional Solutions Committee (PSC) member, and Senior Grade Level Lead; as well as a Delegate of the Chicago Teachers Union and Co-Chair of Anti-Racism and Anti-Bias in Education Committee.

In late 2021, she committed to the Director of Educational Programming position at Segundo Ruiz Belvis where she manages the Youth Programs. Brenda’s interdisciplinary vision of arts education led her to curate an arts education program aligned with SRBCC’s mission, social justice through the lens of a theory of change.

Also in 2021, she co-produced Afrorriqueñes hosted at the center. Brenda has been featured on Chicago’s ABC Channel 7 Hispanic Heritage Special, Telemundo Chicago Colorism by Anabel Monge and dozens of news articles highlighting her use of art to embrace conversations about race, visibility and equity.

 Brenda is a recipient of the Make a Wave 3Arts Award to Individual Artists in 2021.

 

Jean Puga

Administrative Assistant

Jean C Puga is Chicago born and raised; first generation Mexican-American. Northwestern University graduate – BA in Political Science. Her areas of interest are vast and eclectic from Politics to Pop Culture, Graffiti and Opera, Traveling and Podcasts. With over 11 years of administrative experience, including over a decade of work for Northwestern University as Senior Transcript Clerk (2010-2014)], Program Assistant (2014-2019) and Manager of Curriculum Management (2019-2020), Jean joined the SRBCC team in the Fall of 2021. 

 

Teaching Artists

 

Stacy Erenberg

Vocal Teaching Artist

Afro-Caribbean Jazz and Bomba Programs

Stacy Rene Erenberg loves to sing! She has been singing since she can remember talking. Vocal expression through music is her church. Since her 2006 debut as a front woman of 10-piece Neo-Soul band Vertikal, she has performed at legendary Chicago venues such as The Jazz Showcase, The Metro, and Park West. Stacy seamlessly blends improvisational and traditional genres with sultry sweet vocals that create an inventive interpretation of Jazz, Blues and Folk music. She is currently completing a music education program at Chicago State University. Stacy is extremely excited to continue to support students at SRBCC as they explore themselves by making connections between sound, vibration, breath, and its impact on the human spirit.

Valerie Febres

Bomba Dance Instructor

Bomba dancer Valerie Febres comes directly from Puerto Rico and brings 22 years of experience in Afro-Puerto Rican music and dance to SRBCC. Her formal education was in the Santurce style, but her passion is the Loíza style, due to its cadence and strength, which are also representative characteristics of who she is.

Valerie was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, raised in Carolina, has lived in Mexico and currently resides in Chicago (9 years). From a very early age, coming from a family dedicated to theater production, she has had the opportunity to develop and learn first-hand from great stage artists on the island. In dance, she began at a very young age with the Puerto Rican dancer and choreographer Cuca Casanova. Trained in contemporary dance at the University of Puerto Rico by choreographer Viveca Vázquez, Valerie is also a student of Bomba master Oxil Febles. Being a direct disciple of Victoria Espinosa, PhD, she learned from her the art of connecting and communicating with the audience.

All this is integrated into a holistic life path where she has met magical and healing people who have shared their knowledge with her. In addition to bringing the rich legacy of the Puerto Rican bomba, Valerie compliments this with integral elements that help her students not only have a strong stage presence, but also apply those elements to their daily lives. Her classes are an enriching safe space that allows students to connect with their ancestors and express the deepest possible human emotions through body and movement.

Valerie Febres continues to study and honor the tradition of bomba, while reimagining it and fusing it with other Latin American rhythms. This allows her to actively interact with other cultures.

 

Roberto Pérez

Caribbean Cooking with Urban Pilón en Casa

Roberto Pérez is a chef, musician, and researcher of Afro-Caribbean traditions. He is one of the founding members of acclaimed Afro-Puerto Rican music group, Bomba con Buya, and the co-founder of educational culinary initiative, Urban Pilón. 

Urban Pilón is a culinary movement with a mission: to honor and preserve cooking traditions from Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and Latin America, while using completely natural, healthy ingredients. With this mission in mind, Roberto serves not only as chef, but as storyteller, sharing the stories of our ancestors through his cooking, classes, and demonstrations. His popular Caribbean cooking courses showcase these stories by teaching both classic and original recipes along with the history behind them.

In addition to his work as an educator, Roberto has found great success in event catering and dinner hosting, and awarded “International Mealsharer of the Month” by the platform Mealsharing.com. His cooking classes have been featured in the Spanish-language channel Univisión and several of his original recipes have been showcased in Puerto Rican television. He has catered for the cast of Hamilton, Snapchat, and cooked in countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.

 

Quincy Raggs

Bomba Percussion

Quincy Raggs has been a cultural worker preserving and promoting consciousness of various art forms of the African diaspora for over 15 years in Chicago. He is a proud active member of  Chicago based cultural centers and groups which promote AfroCuban religious and secular music, Bomba, Plena, Rumba, Capoeira (and everything in between).  

 

Diana Quiñones Rivera

Film Lab

Quiñones Rivera completed a fellowship with Kartemquin Film’s Diverse Voices in Docs in 2016.  The same year, she directed the music video for Zeshan B’s “Cryin’ In The Streets”. The video premiered in 2017 and was featured in Rolling Stone magazine, American Songwriter, Impose magazine and the Chicago Reader.

In 2017 Quiñones Rivera screened the first episode of her new docu-series, Darling Shear, at the NewFest Film Festival in New York City and the DuSable Museum of Chicago. The first season is available on OTV. She obtained a B.A. in Film and Literature at University of Puerto Rico, a Post Graduate certificate in Filmmaking at London Film School and an MFA in Integrated Media Arts from Hunter College, NYC. 

“A storyteller, a questioner of culture and practice, a seeker of movement and potency… Quiñones Rivera’s immersion in the intersection of dance, music, and film creates a distinctive and inviting thread for her viewers and subjects alike.”

Herminio Rodríguez

Digital Photography Program/Resident Photographer

Herminio Rodriguez is a Professional Commercial and Conceptual photographer, and holds a Master in Fine Arts in Photographic Arts and Science from Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. In November 2011, Rodriguez won First Prize and Acquisition Prize of FOTO MAC, the First Fine Art Photography contest sponsored by the Puerto Rico Contemporary Art Museum and UBS. With over a decade of experience designing and implementing photography classes for at-risk youth, as well as a high sensibility for teaching our younger generations in Puerto Rico, the producer of the critically-acclaimed photo exhibit “Contaminados” (2015) is now an invaluable resource for the Chicago community.

 

 

Michael Rodríguez

Afro-Latin Percussion / After School Programs Co-Instructor

Music Production Co-Instructor

Musical Director, Los Pleneros de Don Segundo 

Co-Director of The Ruiz Belvis Collective

Michael has dedicated most of his professional life to building community-based education programs focusing on  Afro-Latin percussion in Chicago. He founded El Ritmo School of Latin Percussion in the early 2000’s to teach free weekly percussion classes in Humboldt Park, Hermosa, and Logan Square.  Michael plays for various local bands, including Los Pleneros de Don Segundo, and Shades of Time.

 

Afro-Caribbean Jazz Program Instructor

Musical Director of The Ruiz Belvis Collective

Adrian Ruiz started playing piano at the age of 16 in his high school Jazz Band which is where he discovered his passion for music. He won the Ravinia Jazz Scholar award his junior and senior year in high school.

A student of piano giant Willie Pickens, from The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, Adrian started playing professionally at the age of 19. His young career includes a 2006 recording with internationally-renowned Chicago trombonist Vincent Gardner.

In the last 10 years, Adrian Ruiz has shared the stage as pianist for the top tier of Salsa and Jazz, including Frank Catalano, Von Freeman, Luis ‘Perico’ Ortiz, Ernie Adams, Frankie Vázquez, Frankie Negrón, Alison Ruble, The Drifters, Tony Vega, Pedrito Martínez, Víctor Miranda, Grammy-Nominated Angel Meléndez and his Mambo 911 Orchestra, and Grammy Winners Roberto Vizcaino, and Raul Pineda.

 

INTERNS

Giovanni Ortega Flores

Digital Photography and Film Intern

The first time Giovanni picked up a camera and began shooting with it, his curiosity helped open up a world of possibilities. A filmmaking journey that began with making barebones home films at eleven years old helped him grasp the power of storytelling and cinematic moments of everyday life. Developing different perspectives and exploring this medium allowed him to discipline himself in his craft, incorporating inspirations from poetry, photography, and multimedia to continue understanding its potential. Born and raised in the south west side of Chicago, he explored storytelling opportunities both in school and through extracurricular means, ranging from theater, music, creative writing, as well as experimenting with new mediums and techniques. By far the most valuable aspect of his journey has been all of the opportunities and talented individuals that have humbly shared and guided him along the way. This collection of experiences culminates with each new project and continues to bring fresh perspectives in order to successfully bring meaningful media to fruition and positively build community through culture. Some of the projects that Giovanni has worked on include a variety of student short films, wedding recaps, creative advertising, product advertising, promotional content for clients, podcasts, event highlights, and exploring conceptual arts.