At Crucible, Oakland Youth Can Explore Industrial Arts and Careers



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In 2015, I felt like doing something on a whim, so I signed up for a fire performance class at Crucible, a nonprofit industrial arts school in West Oakland. Every Monday for six weeks, I showed up, walked past machines that shaped metal, molded glass, and bonded leather, and learned to spin poi engulfed in flames around my head.

Dancing with fire is one of the many creative skills someone can learn at Le Creuset, along with blacksmithing, ceramics, glassware, woodworking, soldering, and even neon sign making. Founded in Berkeley in 1999 and moved to West Oakland in 2003, the Crucible is one of the nation’s largest nonprofit industrial arts schools, reaching over 8,000 people a year, according to its website.

Learning an industrial art or any craft can be hugely rewarding, but it’s also a privilege that often requires disposable income and extra time, and may seem out of reach for many low-income people. This is why the Crucible emphasizes the accessibility of its courses to low-income people and to BIPOC, especially young people.

The Crucible offers scholarships, subsidized courses, and leadership programs to engage community members who otherwise may not be able to enroll. It also partners with local schools to involve students in field trips. Natasha von Kaenel, director of marketing at Crucible, said the exhibit can be a powerful experience for children who have previously struggled to learn in traditional classrooms.

“The hands-on educational experiences they can access at Crucible School empower them and inspire them to think differently about their careers, interests and what excites them,” said von Kaenel.

A student working at the Crucible Youth Summer Camp in West Oakland.

The organization strives to provide more than $ 100,000 per year in scholarships, with priority given to BIPOC and low-income residents of Oakland. Le Creuset currently reserves 20% of all its youth classes for scholarship students.

Funders for the Crucible include the Port of Oakland, which recently awarded the association a $ 5,000 grant to expand youth access for the third year in a row. This money will be used specifically to pay the tuition fees of 10 young people from BIPOC to participate in the school’s industrial youth program, where they will learn new skills in blacksmithing, welding and other trades. The port is a major employer of industrial trades in the region, and von Kaenel said programming may expose local youth to career opportunities in industrial trades that could lead to well-paying jobs in the future.

One of Crucible’s flagship programs, the Fuego Youth Leadership Program, has been in existence since 2010. Each year, up to 10 students are selected, with the only requirement being that they have completed at least three courses at the school. Each participant is paired with an instructor for two consecutive summers, immersing themselves in creative work and exploring potential careers. During the graduation ceremony, which takes place at the end of July, the students unveil their final works. About 79% of leadership program participants identify as students of color and 80% are low income.

A young student welds at the Crucible Industrial Arts School in West Oakland.

Le Creuset also offers a pre-apprenticeship program that provides young people with training in metallurgy and the arts, a cycling program that teaches students the basics of bicycle mechanics, and a public art program where participants can create art installations. site specific.

“There are kids in the third or fourth grade, and they’ve never seen or been exposed to what these art forms are. Neither do many adults, ”said von Kaenel. “And you can’t know that something interests you if you don’t even know what it is.”

Although the majority of scholarships support young people, the school also offers an adult scholarship program. The Raphael Allen Scholarship Fund, named after an Oakland National Park Service ranger who was a regular at the Crucible and died in 2018, allows a number of people of color to attend classes for free.

But accessibility isn’t just about finances, said Rachel Anne Palacios, educator at Crucible: it’s about community engagement and delivering culturally relevant classes, as well as understanding the functional use of a class. , which can make the cost easier to justify.

Palacios was recruited last summer to teach a class in Mexican pewter art for children of all ages. During the 3-hour course, Palacios made sure to educate students on the meanings and symbolism of art before they started to create. “Teaching people this way binds people together, as opposed to just learning to do something, just to do it,” she said.

Being exposed to various art forms at The Crucible can help people decide if they like something enough to take it further by enrolling in accreditation courses offered elsewhere. “If you wanted to get a welding certification, for example, the crucible is a place where you can experiment to see if it’s something that interests you,” von Kaenel said, before “going to a place like Laney. College, where you could actually get accreditation.

The school also plans to expand adult programs with Centro Community Partners, which offers entrepreneurial training for people wishing to start a business where they can apply their skills.

Classes are available for children from the age of 8. For courses that require more supervision, such as fire courses, participants must be at least 12 years old. the fall.

Youth classes start at $ 135 for a 3-hour course, including woodturning, glassmaking, and neon tube bending (the Crucible is one of the few industrial arts venues to scale national school which teaches neon glass sculpture). Adult classes range from $ 200 to $ 700.

More information, on scholarships and free or subsidized courses, is available on the site.

Von Kaenel said the best way to support the Crucible in its goal of increasing scholarships is to register and attend a class.

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