Sturtz says discovering art helped him through what he recalls as his unruly,
rebellious, semi-suicidal teenage years.
"I found making art to be so rewarding and so grounding and so
reassuring of who I am and who I could be," he recalls, "that when I
see people that don't have that in themselves, I just feel like – if they could
just have that experience of getting what's inside of them out a little bit
more, they would have the [assurance] and the confidence and the gusto to go
for their dreams."
getting his Bachelor's degree and traveling the world to study art, the young
sculptor returned home to Oakland, California in 1998, only to find it lacking
a cultural arts scene. So he decided to start one.
mission to foster creativity
He hosted potluck meals, bringing together artists who were working in the
same medium but didn't know each other. The gatherings grew and soon Sturtz
purchased an empty warehouse to house the project he called The Crucible.
were able to rent affordable studio space there, and some of them were paid to
teach their form of art to the community.
In its first year, 300 students took classes in crafts like welding,
glass-making and blacksmithing. Now in its 10th year, the industrial arts
center offers 750 courses, expanding from the "fire arts" to include
jewelry, textiles and woodworking. Five thousand students, ranging in age from
8 to 80 take classes at The Crucible each year. Half the young people are on
says The Crucible's mission is to encourage a greater appreciation of the
industrial arts, provide learning opportunities for the general public, and
foster creativity. Anyone and everyone can be creative, Sturtz insists,even if
it's in their garage or in their kitchen. "[They could be] gluing things
together, nailing things together, making something that speaks of who they are
and their relationship to the world."
Sturtz describes going from being an artist to a teacher as an amazing
feeling. They both try to have an impact on the world, he notes, "but as
an institution that's teaching so many people and making art accessible to so
many people year after year, you just see the ripple effects [of
with fire and light
The Crucible holds an annual four-day Fire Festival fundraiser. This year,
a city parking lot was turned into an outdoor art gallery of odd-shaped metal
sculptures that shot tongues of flame high into the night sky. "Fire is a
very powerful element," Sturtz says. "People are fearful of it, but
they're drawn to it."
fire-related classes the most popular at The Crucible, Sturtz says it was only
natural to have a fund-raiser that celebrates creation through fire and light.
"This is where you are taking that creative spark, using fire to transform
materials and, ultimately, it transforms people. It empowers them and inspires
One student who has been empowered by fire used safely is Mike Brown, 16.
He has taken almost all of the courses offered through The Crucible's youth
program and now belongs to a welding cooperative, making projects for local
says that what he has learned at the Crucible has changed him; it's given him
the confidence to voice his opinion and speak up to people. And he adds that
Michael Sturtz taught him one of life's important lessons: never to give up,
for anything is possible.
21st century apprenticeship
At least one phone call comes in each week requesting information on how to
start a program like this. Recently, Sturtz sent a team to Wellington, New
Zealand, to help an art studio there break into the fire arts.
compares The Crucible to the guilds and apprenticeships of the late Middle
Ages; it's just a newer approach. "Art schools are very conceptual and
very expensive. Not everybody wants to do that," he observes. "People
just want that hands-on experience. They want the community."
With The Crucible more successful than he could ever have
imagined, Michael Sturtz says he's pleased that other communities are as fired
up as he is about the power of art to change lives.
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