Art Transforms Lives: Youth Find Their Path Making Art With Rikki Smeltzer


In the summer of 2011, after graduating from his metalsmithing program at the University of North Texas, Rikki Lee Smeltzer set his sights on the Bay Area, in search of a creative and inclusive community. A college friend told him to check out a spot called The Crucible. Rikki wasted no time, becoming a volunteer on his second day in The Bay.

He’s been transforming lives at The Crucible ever since.

For the past thirteen years, Rikki has put his heart and soul into teaching. As Jewelry Department Head, he works tirelessly to ensure his students and faculty feel seen, giving them the freedom to grow at their own pace.

fuego reception 2023

Rikki explained, “When I see people struggling, I remind them that you’re here to grow, you can take your time, just enjoy the learning process and the community you create. Nobody learns exactly the same way and sometimes students just need a little extra encouragement.”

It is this patience and understanding that has helped so many students, especially youth students, find themselves through hands-on art-making at The Crucible. Leslie Kwok started taking Jewelry classes at The Crucible when she was 12 years old, growing into our Fuego Youth Leadership Program, and becoming an instructor. She credits her journey to Rikki’s mentoring.

“Rikki has been a huge part of my life since I started at The Crucible. He’s an incredible mentor to me and such a valuable source of knowledge. He’s encouraging and super supportive and I honestly wouldn’t be the artist that I am today if I hadn’t been supported by him.”

Leslie wasn’t always sure she’d be an artist, let alone an instructor. “Growing up, I was a lot more introverted, and I struggled with anxiety.” However, access to hands-on art-making gave her the confidence she needed to explore creative career pathways. Now she’s pursuing a degree in design and teaching Crucible youth classes during her college breaks.

“I think The Crucible has impacted my life for the better, 100%. Art, especially industrial art, has kept me grounded. I am so lucky to have grown up in this environment where I was nurtured creatively. Now I can give that back. It fills me with light, to be able to watch students grow and see them gain more confidence like I did.”

Rikki added, “Experience isn’t related to age or time; it’s related to exposure. The Crucible is a safe space to access that exposure. Creating confidence in one aspect of yourself creates confidence in other aspects of yourself. There’s so much joy that comes with that confidence and pride.”

How Will You Help Transform Tomorrow’s Artists Today?

Giving youth access to transformative art education and mentorship from talented educators like Rikki is something we have been proud to do for 25 years. Now, you can help us provide transformative arts access to youth for the next 25 years to come.

Your donation will support youth scholarships, expanded bike shop programs, free workshops for OUSD students, Fuego Youth Leadership stipends, and our new Creative Economy Pathway Program for young people pursuing careers as instructors, fabricators, and creative business owners in the industrial arts and trades.

As we celebrate our 25th anniversary in 2024, we’ll continue to champion individual growth and vibrant community connections through the industrial arts. Join us in lifting up the next generation of makers, innovators, and creative leaders in Oakland and beyond.

You can make a donation here or visit our campaign via the link below.

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