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ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen, a project by the acclaimed South Side Chicago artist Theaster Gates, is throwing its doors open to the public this weekend.

The culinary business incubator/art gallery at 411 E. Fifth Ave. in downtown Gary will have a grand opening from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday. Gates and Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson will speak at a ceremony that will include music, food trucks, complementary food from local culinary artists, cider, marshmallow roasting over open fire pits, and the unveiling of Ripple + Wilson’s multicolored lanterns wrapping around the outside of the building.

Ripple + Wilson’s solar-powered LED light display will illuminate the 14,000-square-foot building Arthouse shares with Mama Pearl’s BBQ in the night, and shimmer during the day. The public sculpture is now being installed, and will debut during the weekend ceremony.

“I think it’s going to be fun,” Arthouse Project Manager Michele L. Larimer said. “It’s our first opportunity to present ArtHouse to the public in a formal way. ... We want to show what happens when the residents of Gary get together and do something.”

ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen will feature a gallery for local artists, a cafe showcasing the creations of local culinary artists, and an incubator with programs, workshops and a commercial kitchen that can be rented for anyone who wants to start a culinary business.

So far, bakers, caterers, beverage makers and farmers market vendors all have expressed interest.

“We haven’t spoken with a single restaurant,” Larimer said. “Businesses interested in us are focused on events.”

ArtHouse is intended to foster all types of culinary businesses, including restaurants. Food entrepreneurs can attend programs such as on what to do with a surplus harvest of cherries, or sign up for classes on accounting, finance, fundraising and marketing.

“Both in Gary and Northwest Indiana people are catering out of their homes, for a special event or for friends,” she said. “Arthouse helps them take that next step to being a sustainable business. There’s often a barrier of high costs. That’s why there’s such a high failure rate of food-based businesses. It’s expensive on an operational level. Arthouse is a shared space for small businesses so they don’t have to absorb the costs.”

Food businesses could rent the commercial kitchen out for however long they needed it – perhaps three to eight hours a week – so they don’t have to buy or rent a building, and install commercial kitchen equipment at their own expense.

Larimer said she hopes ArtHouse spurs economic development by creating more business opportunities in Gary.

“It creates civic pride and reminds individuals of the great community they live in,” she said.

“It also helps with business development by giving people the resources they need and the tools to take a food business to the next level. It will create businesses and employment opportunities.”

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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.