Oakland at Work: The Crucible
on December 10, 2015
The Crucible is a nondescript warehouse in West Oakland. Except for a few brightly colored metal signs and a large wooden crucible outside the building, the nonprofit industrial arts school could be any other structure in the freeway wrapped landscape.
A swinging door in the lobby opens to a large, high-ceilinged workspace with bare cement floors. The constant hum of machinery vibrates throughout the space.
In various nooks carved out throughout the expansive warehouse, people work. And they work mostly with fire. Mid-afternoon on a Thursday, three people blow glass in a station set up near the lobby’s swinging door. On the end of long metal rods are bright orange hunks of molten glass. One person douses the glowing blob back into the fire. Another rolls the pliable glass on a metal table.
An open path weaves through the other workstations for metal melting, casting, welding, black smithy and a bike shop.
Sudhu Tewari heads the bike shop. He also teaches classes at The Crucible and organizes something called Art Bike. Tewari leads the program for students from McClymonds High School in West Oakland. He teaches them how to take apart and fix bikes, and he encourages them to build bikes unlike any other they have seen.
“Think of the craziest idea you could think of for a bike,” Tewari tells the students.
One student built a “Superman” bike that requires the rider to lie on their stomach, reach forward to grab the handle bars and peddle with their feet behind them. Another student crafted a low-riding, four-wheeled bike that resembles a dune buggy.
The program promotes creativity and teaches physics, Tewari said. The students dream up a bike with unconventional mechanics and then have to make the contraptions work.
Tewari is guy who likes to make stuff. He fiddles with a wrench while describing his own projects as well as his students’ creations. He speaks excitedly about the pieces, pacing around the warehouse and pointing to the various metal sculptures surrounding the bike shop.
He is also passionate about teaching and working with the community. Public schools let out early on Wednesdays and Tewari opens the bike shop. Any student can come hang out, work on a bike and learn. The bikes at the shop are donated and often in rough shape. Students that fix a bike are then able to take it home. Many of the students come from the surrounding low-income neighborhoods and would not otherwise be able to afford a bike.
Tewari is paid for 10 hours of work a week at The Crucible for the classes he teaches, but often spends 20 to 30 hours a week there. Hanging out past the scheduled hours seems to be a trend at the funky, fire-breathing school. Many people working at the school are actually volunteers.
Art Bike wrapped in time for winter break and the students will show their custom bikes The Crucible’s annual Gifty Holiday Open House. The bike shop also sells its bikes and uses the money for bike shop supplies.
“It’s cool to see people empowered with knowledge and skills,” Tewari said of his students.
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