Audra Haas was 18 years old and exploring a new city, San Diego, when she stumbled upon her passion. Haas and her sister walked into an “interactive art studio,” then one of the first of its kind. They spent the day there making art and catching up over a cup of coffee. The moment was unexpectedly powerful, a welcome escape from the rush of everyday life. Said Haas, “I fell in love with the idea of art bringing people together.” According to Haas, that memory has stuck with her ever since. Years later – after living in California, Florida and Mexico, returning to Appleton and starting a family – Haas found herself wanting a project, something in which to channel her talent and energies. “I wanted to do something I was passionate about,” said Haas. The memory of that day in San Diego still lingered, and Haas decided to recreate it back home in Wisconsin. Haas opened a studio, called The Fire, on College Avenue between Massage Connection and the now-defunct Conkey’s Bookstore, thereby bringing an interactive art studio to downtown Appleton. An interactive art studio is intended to make artistic activity approachable and accessible to everyone, from young school kids to their tired parents, from weary college students to random passersby. The Fire welcomes all of these customers and more. The giant wall calendar on the east side of the store confirms this fact: It mentions school trips, Girl Scout troops, birthday parties and bridal showers. Interestingly, The Fire doesn’t offer official classes of the intensive six-week-workshop sort. No appointments are necessary. Haas aims to maintain an open, friendly studio conducive to spur-of-themoment visits. The bright logo and colorful storefront windows seem designed to welcome pedestrians. Indeed, curious passersby with no previous experience form an integral part of The Fire’s clientele. The Fire offers four kinds of artistic projects to its customers. Visitors can fuse glass, paint pottery, make mosaics – arranging colorful tiles on wooden surfaces like picture frames – or fashion jewelry from “precious metal clay.” The studio itself is bright and inviting, filled with lots of light and plenty of quirky decorations. A vintage General Electric refrigerator, for instance, adorns the wall next to the larger-than-life calendar. With some luck, Haas found that refrigerator abandoned on the curbside along with an oldfashioned television. Both items make the studio feel less like a storefront and more like a livedin space and that seems to be the intended effect. In addition to these decorative elements, the walls are lined with unpainted pottery and other supplies. The center of the studio, however, is all uncluttered workspace, filled with large tables conducive to collaborative moments like the one Haas shared with her sister back in San Diego. Indeed, the studio’s design seems part of a distinct atmosphere, a deliberately casual environment intended to draw anyone and everyone into the creative process. This philosophy doesn’t stop at the studio doors. The Fire is also heavily involved in the wider community. Harmony Café for instance, commissioned The Fire to create a set of new mugs. In the past, Haas and her staff have created mosaic “backsplashes” for homes created by Habitat for Humanity. The studio is also involved with educational endeavors. It hosts summer workshops for school-aged kids and sometimes collaborates with YMCA children’s programs. This community involvement extends to the Lawrence campus as well. Haas currently counts Lawrentians among some of her regular visitors, but she is always looking to do more to bridge the one-block divide between campus and community. So next time you’re looking for an escape from the Lawrence Bubble, consider a trip to this most welcoming of art studios. You can stop in for an hour or two, leave your daily grind behind and make something memorable.