OAKLAND -- Over the course of six weeks last year, a dozen girls from Oakland's Edna Brewer Middle School added a most unusual skill to their artistic repertoire: They learned to weld.

Powered by a $5,000 grant from Oakland Fund for the Arts, women instructors from the West Oakland-based Crucible nonprofit taught students arc welding, oxyacetylene torch cutting and angle grinding to create sculptures around the theme of self-expression.

"It offered such an incredible opportunity for these young women to be taught by women," the Crucible's education director, Kristy Alfiera said, adding that the students were at first intimidated by the torches.

"When they first came in and read their journals, they were about how scared they were," she said. "Then you look at the journals over time, and that fear turns into empowerment, pride and inspiration."

Outcomes such as the Crucible's Gear Girls program define the mission of Oakland Fund for the Arts, which since 1996 has granted more than $500,000 to arts in the public schools. On Aug. 28, the organization will put on its largest annual fundraiser at Jack London Square's Bocanova, which for the past five years has celebrated its own birthday by hosting the celebration.


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"The success of local artists gives children in public schools a vision of success that goes beyond the three Rs," said Meredith Melville, who cofounded the Pan-American restaurant with husband Rick Hackett. "I believe that art programs in schools energize the students and stimulate other parts of their brains. Art helps children explore who they are and provides an avenue for them to find their own personal voice."

Laurie Pitman, president of the Oakland Fund for the Arts board of directors, said the popularity of Bocanova and the willingness of its owners to partner with the organization has doubled the fundraising capacity for the event, which sells out every year. Bocanova also donates a dinner to be auctioned, which this year will be at the couple's new venture, Jack's Oyster Bar and Fish House expected to open soon in Jack London Square.

"They really have made themselves a place in Oakland -- not just with their food but with their great meeting place -- to demonstrate a very vocal commitment to education and the arts," Pitman said of Melville and Hackett.

This spring, the organization received 23 grant applications and was able to afford to fund just seven of the programs, totaling more than $40,000. The goal is to serve schools in the poorest parts of Oakland, and "there is still so much more need," Pitman said.

More than 50 percent of the organization's income stems from the Bocanova event, which costs $125 per person and features a silent auction and raffle. The evening begins with hors d'oeuvres and wine on the patio overlooking the waterfront and moves inside for a buffet dinner complete with wine and dessert.

IF YOU GO
What: Oakland Fund for the Arts Annual Fundraiser and Bocanova's 5th Birthday Party
When: Aug. 28 -- 6 p.m., hors d'oeuvres and silent auction; 7:30 p.m. buffet
Where: Bocanova, 55 Webster St., Oakland
Cost: $125 per person
Information: www.oaklandfundforthearts.org