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ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen opened a culinary incubator/art gallery in downtown Gary two years ago in the hope of creating more food-related entrepreneurs in a city of 76,000 with just 30 restaurants, many of which are fast-food joints that line Broadway and Grant Street.

City officials credit the cultural center, which has already hosted more than 100 programs, with sparking new life along the Fifth Avenue corridor in downtown Gary.

Now it's expanding to a vacant lot across the street in what's being heralded as a "major milestone."

ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen unveiled the new ArtHouse Patio, an outdoor area that includes a public sculpture by the acclaimed South Side Chicago artist Theaster Gates, ArtHouse's founder.

The sculpture consists of three shingled walls that resemble gabled roofs, with a mulch floor on a newly sodded lot. The patio addition is meant to be a public gathering spot that will be incorporated into ArtHouse's outdoor events, which have included festivals, grilling sessions and movie screenings.

ArtHouse also plans to plant gardens and add more public sculpture there.

"It's helping to extend the imprint of ArtHouse beyond the walls of its physical building," said Brandi Stewart, of New York City-based Bloomberg Philanthropies, which funded the project. "Over the spring and summer, this space will blossom with gardens, programming and more public art."

ArtHouse already has brought residents from across the city together and energized downtown, she said.

"The result is a beautiful new cultural center that has hosted more than 100 community programs and provided a platform for artists to share their work," she said. "ArtHouse has also provided business and professional development training to more than 30 entrepreneurs. Over the past two years, we've had the chance to watch a transformation occur on these corners of Fifth and Delaware, and it has truly been amazing."

Legacy Foundation President Carolyn Saxton said ArtHouse has been a catalyst for change in downtown Gary, where the sponsor, the John L. and James S. Knight Foundation, also has funded the City Methodist Church ruins garden and Steel City Salvage's reclaimed building material warehouse.

"We see this as a first step to the redevelopment of Gary, Indiana," she said. "We want to be a major partner to help it flourish and grow in the future."

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said some questioned that private foundations pumped $1 million into an arts center downtown when the city has many other needs, but said it's helped bring Fifth Avenue back to life with new investments in 504 Broadway, the U.S. Steel Yard and the former Calumet Township site.

"It was the result of the catalyst created by ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen," she said. "That's what development is all about. If you are able to get someone to be the first in, you find others who are willing to get involved, and to invest their money or time."

Gates, who had the vision for the community center that regularly hosts business seminars, cooking classes, yoga and visual art exhibits, said he wanted to ensure that the resources that came into the Steel City would have an impact.

"I'm proud to say the investments that have come have touched lives in Gary," he said. "ArtHouse is an amazing demonstration of what resources and people can do. ... What you're looking at across the street is the beginning of public sculpture, but also a place we hope you guys will hang.

"As the mayor said, if the catalystic work is done, it requires the people of Gary to keep working to keep it beautiful. Accept this as a gesture of generosity. We hope you'll use this space for eating, chilling, backgammon, bingo, whatever people do. Barbecue on it."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.