By Story and photos by Mikael Krummel

When Ivan DelSol and his wife first moved to Lane County in 2011, they set up housekeeping on the second floor loft of the Lawson Building—a vacant, ramshackle, century-old brick storefront in downtown Cottage Grove. “The building,” DelSol recalls, “was taking on a lot of rain. It was a disaster area. Main Street was deserted—there was nothing happening downtown.”

DelSol, a self-described “revolutionary type,” also cobbled together the rudiments of a black box theater on the ground level of the Lawson. Unconventional? Maybe for most Cottage Grove residents — but hardly out of character for DelSol given his background doing experimental theater in L.A.

The tiny theater inside the Lawson Building has seen a curious evolution over the past half decade. Punk and metal rock shows of earlier years have, at times, given way to art forms better matched to local tastes, which is not to say the theater has eschewed politics and controversy. DelSol has long viewed his projects as “kind of a bucket list thing” for adventurous non-actors, and these days some of the theater’s most popular performers include downtown shopkeepers. Plus, the theater’s affinity for youth arts has helped establish a partnership with the student-oriented Storybook Theatre of Cottage Grove.

Some of the changes reflect a general renaissance seen in downtown Cottage Grove the past few years. They also reflect an expanding vision for local community arts. Whereas the Lawson has sometimes struggled as a theater operation, recently it has evolved into something more sturdy. It has literally transformed into a registered nonprofit: The Opal Center for Arts & Education. And the Opal Center is emerging as a force for a more diverse community shaped by creativity and the arts.

“It’s about flexibility,” says center director Leah Murray. “We don’t have to stay mainstream. We don’t have to be an elephant in the room. We can do what we want.” And according to Murray, part of what the Opal Center wants to be is both welcoming and provocative. New programs, new players, new points of view.

Support the Opal’s vision by checking out upcoming events and shows.