...where everyone, regardless of age, income status, or family background, feels comfortable. It is the community's family room. It's a place that connects the community's history with its present, where voices from the past speak to us. Elders love to be there to relive memories of touring groups and dances in their youth, mesmerized by the restoration of a beautiful space they knew so well. It's a place where eyes of the young dancers sparkle with excitement as they look out on their families in the audience during their first recital. It is an incubator of creative talent, a place where young people can gather to explore their inner spaces without fear of failure, a place to create where the sky's the limit. It is a space where the increasingly diverse community enjoys learning about and celebrating one another together.
This place is also an economic generator in the community and the region. As the Darlington downtown continues to develop, more and more residents find that the community offers all the shopping opportunities they need. Residents of southwest Wisconsin find themselves drawn to the ever increasing cultural activities unique in the area. Darlington becomes an important link in the cultural chain of southwest Wisconsin, welcoming film festivals, traveling arts and humanities shows and theatrical and musical touring companies. Tourists from out of the area who come for the ATV trails along the Pecatonica River extend their stays to take advantage of the expanding list of activities taking place at the Driver Opera House.
For 75 of its nearly 130 years, the Driver Opera House served as this cultural center of Darlington.
Built in 1883 by Josephus Driver, the patriarch of a prominent Darlington family, the flat floor Opera House is on the second floor of a two story building constructed of Milwaukee cream city brick. The Opera House features a 15 foot by 25 foot raised stage with an audience seating capacity of 225. The first floor was used then, as it is now, as downtown retail space. After hosting traveling theater groups for much of its early history, the Opera House held its last dance, sponsored by the American Legion, on St. Patrick's Day in 1951. Since then, the Opera House has remained unused and untouched.
To put this project into historical perspective, the Driver Opera House is 3 years older than the Statue of Liberty.
A diverse group of interested citizens forms the Board of Directors of the organization, representing interest from arts and history, the financial community, local entrepreneurs and individuals who simply care about the historical and cultural life of rural southwest Wisconsin. Additionally, a group of respected and interested citizens from around Lafayette County forms the Driver Opera House Advisory Board.
The goal of The Driver Opera House Restoration Project is to restore the physical structure to its original beauty and value to the community. The first floor will be flood proofed to allow the safe use of the building for retail in the busy Darlington downtown. The second story will be returned to public space used for musical and theatrical performances and innovative programming for the arts as well as other community and private events.
The completed Driver Opera House Center for the Arts will provide space to local theatrical groups to stage live performances as well as serve as a venue for community events and activities including dance lessons, poetry recitals, music performances, storytelling, art exhibits, creative workshops, and much more. Additionally, the space will be available for private rental for family reunions, receptions, and other social functions.