Kristy Higares loves watching states of matter transform. During her eleven years at The Crucible, our current Director of Administration & Strategic Initiatives has most enjoyed her classes in Foundry—heating metal until it liquefies, then pouring it into molds to give it a new form of her own design.

Kristy relates her fascination for foundry with her passion for The Crucible. She has watched artists, fabricators, community members, performers, youth, and others transform and grow as they are exposed to new art forms, techniques, and people in this special space where anything is possible.

Where else does a motorcyclist ride down The Crucible stairwell balanced on one wheel, while a ballerina pirouettes in the background, her tutu ablaze? Where else does a Michelin star chef team up with a master bladesmith to forge the perfect knife for a hog butchering? Where else can more than half of youth participants take classes in the industrial arts for free, exploring their creative side and gaining real hard skills in the process?

We stole a few minutes of Kristy’s time to chat about The Crucible and just what has kept her going all these years, excerpts below.

What inspires you?

Being a resident in Oakland for twenty-two years has inspired me. When you look at the infrastructure of Oakland public schools and the changing landscape of Oakland, it is one of the most interesting places in terms of diversity, and intersections of populations who live amongst one another.

In terms of The Crucible, I think what really inspired me is how we provide an alternative to what could be really complicated streets, really violent streets. Seeing the work in action every day, seeing young folks who came in when they were twelve, who are now twenty-two and teaching classes, that inspires me. You can really see the manifestation of your work, and often in education you don’t get that.

Tell me something that happened at The Crucible that you will never forget.

I still remember a conversation I had with Michael Sturtz when I first came to The Crucible. My title was Youth and Community Manager, and I knew how to manage the youth program but I didn’t know what the community part meant. Is that West Oakland, Oakland, the Greater Bay Area, fire-eaters, fire performers, welders, young folks? I didn’t know how to approach that portion of my job. Michael Sturtz said to me, ‘If we provide exceptional youth educational opportunities, then we’re providing for the greater community.’

So that’s what we did. And I think that was some of the most transformative advice I ever received.

What’s something people don’t know about The Crucible that they should?

I think people don’t know about the vision and hard work that got us to where we are. When The Crucible took over this space thirteen years ago, there was nothing here. Maybe there was one staff person and a few volunteers. Everything you see in this space has been donated or built or salvaged with volunteers and faculty and staff who aren’t paying attention to the clock. Everything everyone does here is because of this mission, with a quiet attitude of just doing, of just getting it done.

Then all of a sudden we have a 56,000 square foot facility; we have many different departments; we serve 10,000 students a year. But we had to make that jump from Berkeley to here and build out all of this.

What is something you would like to see more of from The Crucible?

I’d like to see more access, because I know art is transformative.

Our youth program does provide access to amazing opportunities for youth, and our volunteer program provides opportunities for those who can’t afford to come and take a class. But a lot of people lack time to volunteer. So how else can we increase accessibility for adults in our most underserved communities—the single moms, the grandparents, the underemployed who would benefit from fifteen hours of welding or blacksmithing?

The Crucible turns arts education upside down in some ways, because we don’t canonize it. You just need to come and be willing to learn.

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