22 Folks to Celebrate The Crucible’s 22 Years

By Natasha von Kaenel & Cathy Niland | 1.14.2021

On January 15, 1999, in a 6,000-sq-ft rented studio in West Berkeley, The Crucible was born. Just four years later, we moved to our 56,000-sq-ft studio in West Oakland and the rest was history. Since opening, we’ve been lucky to make art with thousands of Bay Area residents and build an incredible artist community.

This year was one of the most challenging in our 22-year history. Thankfully, we have an incredible team of staff, faculty, volunteers, students, supporters, and community members who have helped The Crucible weather the storm. Knowing we would be unable to come together in-person, we asked our community of faculty and staff to nominate whom we should celebrate in honor of The Crucible’s 22 years.

artist masks
The original Berkeley location of The Crucible. 

It is impossible to name everyone that deserves recognition—but we hope this short list of folks will give you a better idea of the hundreds of incredible volunteers, students, faculty, board members, staff, and community supporters that make the mission of The Crucible possible.

Celebrating 22 Folks Nominated By Their Peers

These individuals are just 22 of the hundreds of folks who make The Crucible so special; volunteers who have dedicated hundreds of hours, staffers who give 110%, faculty who make every class memorable.

artist masks

Janet Hiebert

Glass Fusing and Slumping Department Head

Janet is a talented glass artist with extensive knowledge in her field. During her decades at The Crucible, she has organized and created a wonderful Glass Fusing Department. Janet’s high attention to detail, breadth of knowledge, and easy communication style has ensured that all feel welcome and excited to learn how to fuse and slump glass with her at the helm.

artist masks

Maliq Nathaniel

Lead Studio Manager, Welding and Bike Shop faculty, Fuego Youth Leader

Maliq first came into The Crucible as a young teen in the Bike Program and moved from being a Fuego Leader, to a Pre-Apprentice role to a Studio Manager, learning along the way. In 2020, Maliq was promoted to Lead Studio Manager, recognition for his steadiness, skill and commitment to The Crucible. He is a driving force in both youth outreach and creating community at The Crucible, and a core part of The Bike Shop.

artist masks

Rob Nehring

Welding faculty, former Crucible staff

Rob has been a part of The Crucible community since the early 2000s when he traveled from Chicago to take his first class. Since then, Rob has held all kinds of positions at The Crucible, from volunteer to Director of Programs to faculty member. His passion for sharing the industrial arts with everyone comes through in his captivating teaching style and he inspires his students (and everyone else) with his humorous and lively sculpture.

Amanda Lacau Noguera

Board President

Former tech sales executive Amanda Lacau Noguera moved up to her spot at Board Chair just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Everyone who has been working with her to keep The Crucible steady during this challenging time appreciates her blend of kindness, persistence, and creativity. Amanda’s leadership in successfully reaching out to those with resources on behalf of The Crucible has made a huge difference–as does her ability to work with, and appreciate, the wide range of personalities The Crucible enjoys.

Shaina Johnson

Fire & Performance Department Head, Grant Writer

Shaina has been the head of the Fire and Performance Department for the last several years, working to create a culture where the most inexperienced student can get progressively more involved with fire eating, fire performance, hoops, staff, and more. More recently, Shaina began working as a Grant Writer to help support Crucible programs, and she’s doing such a great job! You can see some of Shaina’s performance magic in this performance at The Oakland Museum, and then appreciate her skill in helping to raise money for our Bike Shop and monthly Fix-A-Thons.

Warren Breslau

Crucible faculty and former Board President

Welding faculty member, former board chair, and long-standing Crucible community member, Warren has been core to the evolution of The Crucible into the non-profit industrial arts school and arts community that it is today. His mixed-media art pieces have been sought-after contributions to our Soiree auctions, and his pragmatic kindness and devotion to our space have helped him navigate many deep community conversations. He’s a person that we are thrilled to have in our corner.

Ledora Lewis-Highwater

Crucible Custodian, Woodworking faculty

Our neighbor, Ledora has been The Crucible’s ambassador since the beginning, directly connecting us with our neighborhood’s youth, adults, and seniors interested in scholarships for industrial arts classes. Ledora has spent the last few decades working as our custodian and as an instructor in our Woodworking Department. She has been instrumental in introducing us to youth who dedicated themselves to the arts, going on to teach in our art departments and joining our staff.

Taj Wilson new board members 2020

Taj Wilson

Board Member

Board member Taj Wilson was an engaged advisory council member before he joined the board in 2020, and he has been such a valued resource. Early on, Taj moved thinking and conversations forward around apprenticeships at The Crucible; more recently, he helped coordinate a sustained fundraising effort at his workplace that helped The Crucible fund core operating expenses during the pandemic. He’s a passionate Oaklander and an advocate for opportunities for under-resourced youth of color who brings so much to our community.

Ismael Plasencia

Youth Program Manager

A welder by trade, when Ismael “Iz” Plasencia first saw how The Crucible’s Youth Programs were getting Oakland youth excited about making things with their hands, he knew he had to get involved. Iz started volunteering, joined our faculty, then our staff. He was instrumental in expanding our Hyphy Bike Program, where youth customized and redesign bikes into functional works of art, and for the last few years, has led The Crucible’s Youth Programming.

Kier Lugo

Glass Blowing Department Head, former Crucible staff

Kier was the driving force behind the creation of The Crucible’s Glass Blowing Department, where he fabricated much of the equipment by hand. His commitment is undeniable—and many tell the story of when The Crucible’s power failed one night back in 2019, how he saved a glass furnace by keeping it warm with a venturi burner through much of the night. A talented glass artist—his expertise shone at The Crucible’s Soirée, where many of his art pieces helped raise funds to support Crucible programming.

Lauren Ekman

Glass Flameworking Department Co-head, former Crucible staff

Lauren is a brilliant glass artist whose beadwork is admired by everyone who sees it, and the valued co-chair of the Glass Flameworking Department. Lauren also spent several years in critical roles helping to run The Crucible, most recently as our SHROOM—Senior HR Operations and Office Manager. Her spirit, kindness, and badass devotion to getting things done are so valued at The Crucible.

Adrian Rodriguez

Blacksmithing faculty, Fuego Youth Leader

Through The Crucible’s youth scholarship program, then Fuego Youth Leadership Program, then the Pre-Apprentice Program, Adrian cultivated his talents for forging metal and fell in love with blacksmithing. Adrian was one of the first Crucible youth students to join The Crucible’s faculty. His forged art is devilishly inspiring and he excels at getting young people just as excited about blacksmithing as he is.

abisola coretta

Abisola Coretta

Crucible volunteer

On her first visit to The Crucible, Abisola spent more than two hours speaking with our faculty about their process, our mission, and The Crucible’s influence on the Bay Area maker community. A Ph.D. student at Stanford, Abisola was interested in researching how students developed skills in fabrication and machine work. But since immersing herself in the community of The Crucible as a volunteer, she has become inspired to research art as an alternative educational pathway.

Kelmen Wu

Senior Staff Accountant

Accountants don’t get celebrated enough. Kelmen Wu joined The Crucible team back in May 2018 and from paying the bills to people, she’s our secret weapon for getting things done. A true expert in the culinary arts, Kelmen is the best eating partner for discovering dim sum joints to fine dining.

Marc MacDonald

Crucible Volunteer

The Crucible struck gold when Marc began donating his time to our studio in early 2014, quickly becoming an integral part of our Bike Shop’s team. A self-proclaimed fixer, Marc loved tackling the most difficult bike donations, even taking frames home to do extra work after hours. Marc passed away in 2019, but his impact lives on through the lives he changed and joy he brought into our space, and he is honored in the Bike Shop with the Marc MacDonald Spoke Hotel.

Nick DiPhillipo

Foundry Department Head

At the heart of The Crucible is the Foundry. In a Crucible, metal is melted and poured during fire performances, fire operas, open houses, and other public events; thanks to Nick DiPhillipo. He has been dedicated to the Foundry almost from its inception, keeping it running smoothly and making improvements and upgrades along the way. At the same time, he shares his knowledge, teaching classes, and maintaining a very capable crew.

Rikki Smeltzer

Jewelry Department Head, former Crucible staff

For so many, Rikki embodies everything The Crucible is about— friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, and inspiringly creative, Rikki is known to step up when any department needs support. Rikki’s many talents shine in particular in The Crucible’s Jewelry Department and Leather, Textiles and Fine Arts Departments—where he has served as Department Head–and in supporting our youth programs.

Melissa Gray

Senior Programs Manager

Senior Programs Manager Melissa Gray is so good at her job, she makes it look easy–and it truly isn’t! Her patience, humor, kindness and love for both Crucible faculty and the arts they teach makes her one of the most treasured people in our organization. If you sit near Melissa, you see the endless flow of small artworks, bits of food, and other appreciations people drop by for this person they just treasure.

Jeremy Cavagnolo

Former Crucible faculty and staff

When The Crucible moved to West Oakland, folks hoped to create a community Bike Shop that showed young folks the opportunities of the industrial arts, while also helping them fix their bicycles. Jeremy Cavagnolo (and his twin brother Brian) were instrumental in this vision, building the foundation of a shop with a service mission that The Crucible’s Bike Shop now relies on.

Monica Barney

Crucible Volunteer

Monica gave her time to support The Crucible’s Youth Camps over the summer, filling in and supporting staff during a time of tremendous challenge and many changes. A scientist by profession, she spent 15 hours meticulously wrapping presents to ensure folks who supported through Giving Back at GIFTY got a taste of the holiday spirit, even though the event was virtual.

Jay Kravitz

Stage Director

At the beginning of The Crucible’s history, Jay was instrumental in the creation of the organization’s brand and design. His calm and methodical approach helped ensure the success of the wild fire-filled fundraising events in The Crucible’s early history, including the Fire Operas, Fire Ballets, and the much-acclaimed Fire Arts Festivals that he worked to produce and stage direct. Jay was part of a Crucible crew known as the “Diesel Dozen”, who built Die Moto, a biodiesel motorcycle that set a land speed record in 2007 and he has continued to support The Crucible team in pulling off our larger fundraisers to date.


(Yes, you!)

As a community arts center, everyone who walks through our doors has made an impact on our community and is part of The Crucible. There are so many folks who knew The Crucible in its early days in Berkeley and many others who just discovered it virtually and are waiting for their chance to step inside. We look forward to welcoming you all back.

Please raise a (virtual) glass for 22 years. 🥂

Do you have a Crucible history story you want to tell?

Be sure to email with stories to celebrate The Crucible’s 22nd birthday.

Keep Reading