DANCE TIME Araujo.
The walls of the Firehouse 13 cultural center are a deep red now, split by a long, white stripe on the northeast wall, with a bit of black below.
It is, in some respects, just a paint job. But for Lizzie Araujo, general manager, the shot of color is a symbol, too. Not of an entirely new direction — that's too dramatic — but of a refined focus.
The center opened in 2006 in a long-abandoned, three-story brick firehouse that once sheltered horse-drawn fire engines downstairs and cadets above.
Art gallery by day and rock club by night, it built a reputation as an outpost for the loud and quirky.
A string of Sunday parties in the waning days of summer a couple of years ago were titled "Massacre Under the Bigtop," "The Lee Harvey Oswald Post? Modern Makeout Party," "Oppress Yourself," and "Everything Iz Everything" — the latter featuring a tongue-in-cheek orchestra composed almost entirely of typewriters.
The flowering of Firehouse 13, wedged between the West End and the South Side on Central Street, came as Araujo — a veteran bartender, booking agent, and programming director at Lupo's, the Met Café, and AS220 — was emerging from a domestic period. "Mommy world," she calls it.
She took over in August 2010 and, after a sort of mini-listening tour, has made her move: gently phasing out the gallery and focusing on the music — that's what she knows best. And as the only full-time staffer at the place, she says, "I think it's easier to do one thing well."
The last formal art exhibition was in December. Firehouse 13 showed some work by architecture students at RISD in March. And painting the white walls red in recent weeks — Araujo did most of the work herself — was a sort of clean break.
"We needed to . . . give Firehouse a real personality, in terms of branding and marketing," she says. "You walk in and you get a feeling. It's not just a raw space."
Building Firehouse 13's music muscle is hardly a new endeavor, as Araujo is quick to point out. Her predecessor, Anna Shea, booked local powerhouses like Deer Tick and the Low Anthem and drew hipster upstarts from Rhode Island and across the country.
Two years ago, the Phoenix named Firehouse "the best place to catch tomorrow's bands today." And before Araujo's arrival, the club made some important improvements: raising its stage off the floor and beefing up the sound system.
More is one the way in May: new speakers, new microphones and microphone stands, back-ups for the amps and audio components in the sound board; in short, a more professional set-up for a venue that hopes to attract more acts from all over.
Firehouse plans to revamp its attractive but jumbled web site, too. Araujo is transitioning from a .org (firehouse13.org) to a .com (fh13.com) to emphasize that Firehouse 13 is, indeed, a for-profit venture. And she would like, in time, to include MP3s from bands, a blog, seamless ticket-buying, and the like.
In a town with precious few live music venues, a comer is investing in something more. Starting with a few buckets of red paint.