Gary is among the recipients of $1 million arts grants from billionaire Michael Bloomberg's charitable organization.

The Bloomberg Public Art Challenge grant will be merged with a previous $650,000 donation from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to support Arthouse: A Social Kitchen in downtown Gary.

The goal is to transform an underused downtown building into a cultural hub that will provide a showcase for visual and culinary arts. The current home of Dustie's Buffet Restaurant — now open for special events and midday during the week — is the site under discussion for the project. 

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the project is "an arts-focused way to help Gary's economy and fill a social need."

"We know that meaningful revitalization starts by keeping our young people at home. Too many talented young residents leave Gary to pursue careers as chefs, restaurant managers and entrepreneurs. We want to provide opportunities for them to foster their abilities and achieve their goals," she said.  

"Through the arts, we can capture that energy and breathe new life into our downtown. After years of disinvestment, we are beginning to see great opportunity in our vacant storefronts. The empty buildings downtown provide a blank canvas for creativity and community engagement."

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The Gary project is part of a national initiative spearheaded by the University of Chicago's PlaceLabs program, a model dedicated to "jump-start community-led development by bringing together artists, designers, urban planners and policy experts." The initiative already has been successful in Chicago, Omaha and St. Louis.

The ArtHouse will host three commissioned works of visual art, offer culinary training and provide programs that use the culinary arts and food as a means of engaging the community.

LaLosa Burns, director of communications for the city of Gary, said "The Public Art Challenge grant will cover development, execution and project-related expenditures but will not fund 100 percent of project costs. The grant is intended to provide catalytic funds as part of a strong committed consortium of supporters."

There were 237 proposals to the Bloomberg Public Art Challenge. Submissions were evaluated on a number of factors, including potential viability as dynamic public art projects, impact on civic issues and capacity to establish or strengthen public-private partnerships.

The ideas put forward ranged from plans to revitalize decaying downtowns to promoting city identity.  

Also receiving the grants are Los Angeles, Spartanburg, S.C., and Albany, Schenectady and Troy in New York.