With the avowed purpose "to stimulate interest and appreciation of art in our region", ten artists formed the Hammond District Art Association in 1936. Membership was limited to Hammond and Calumet City artists. Together, they sponsored the first annual Art Exhibition of the Hammond District Art Association in the millinery department of the Edward C. Minas Company Department Store in Hammond. The ten founding artists were: William J. Bachman, Martha Ellyson, Anne Geyer, O.O. Haag, Lenore Conde Lawson, Eunice McCullough, Frank Myslive, Clyde Price, Laverne Thornton, and H. Tom Tuinman.

As time went on, the group broadened its constituency to include East Chicago, then Whiting, and later all of Lake County. The annual exhibition begun in 1936 became known as the Salon Show in 1944, and was held under the auspices of the Painters and Sculptors League of Lake County (as the group was then calling themselves) and the Lake County Federation of Women’s Clubs. Distinguished judges, substantial cash awards and talented artists became standard fare with the annual show.

In 1946, the group reorganized under the leadership of Edgar Hanford and renamed itself the Northern Indiana Art Patrons Association and continued the annual Salon Show, increasing the scope and quality with each year. By 1969 the exhibit was so large that a new site was required, and the Salon Show moved to the new Hammond Public Library. In 1969, the group incorporated as a not-for-profit educational and cultural corporation, with the name changed to Northern Indiana Arts Association.

The First Church of Christ, Scientist building at 5448 Hohman Avenue in Hammond became the group’s first Art Center. The new Art Center opened on January 27, 1970, with Mrs. Wanda Gardner serving as President. The 27th Annual Salon Show was the first Salon Show held in the new building. Frank Myslive of Hammond was awarded the $500 prize for Best of Show for his painting entitled, Where is Everyone? Myslive also had been the prizewinner of the first annual Salon Show in 1944 with his oil painting entitled Early Caller.

When St. Margaret Hospital of Hammond expanded its facilities, the South Shore Arts building on Hohman Avenue was sold to the hospital, and South Shore Arts moved in 1982 to rented headquarters at 8317 Calumet Avenue in Munster, where it remained until 1989. Through the efforts of a number of community-spirited individuals under the leadership of Don Powers, a Center for the Visual and Performing Arts was built on Ridge Road in Munster to provide for the continuing expansion of visual and performing arts programs in the Calumet area. The architect on the project was William J. Bachman, one of the original founders of the art association. South Shore Arts is the largest tenant in the Art Center, occupying over 15,000 square feet comprised of the William J. Bachman Gallery, offices, spacious classrooms and a gift shop.

The expansion into the new Art Center allowed for a broad spectrum of programs, including art classes for ages one through adult ranging in subject from cartooning and ceramics to photography and drama to name a few, lectures on diverse topics from architecture to fashion, poetry readings, satellite art exhibits throughout the region, bus tours to major art museums, multicultural puppet shows for children and more.

In 1998, South Shore Arts opened branch locations in Crown Point, in the historic People’s State Bank Building across from the Old Lake County Courthouse, and, coming full circle, in downtown Hammond, in the former NIPSCO Substation No. 9, located just a block away from the site of the first Salon Shows. Both branches enable a greater number of people to participate in South Shore Arts programs, while contributing to downtown revitalization efforts in their host cities.

Since 1995, South Shore Arts has developed an extensive Youth Outreach Program serving diverse constituencies of children and teens in settings throughout Lake and Porter counties.  By partnering with public and parochial schools, social service agencies and municipal park and recreation departments, South Shore Arts annually serves over 17,000 students, many of whom would be without the character-building and skill-developing benefits that art instruction can provide for the young.

Funds allocated for the arts by the Indiana legislature traditionally were distributed to Indiana arts organizations by the Indiana Arts Commission (IAC), located in Indianapolis. The IAC also provided technical assistance to arts providers to develop their administrative, artistic, managerial and leadership skills. In late 1996, the IAC initiated a network of twelve Regional Arts Partners intended to provide more direct delivery of both grants and services to arts organizations throughout Indiana. South Shore Arts serves as the Regional Arts Partner for Lake, Porter and LaPorte Counties, the state's second most populous region. With the support of the IAC, South Shore Arts spent two years preparing for its role as a Regional Partner, including the completion of a cultural needs assessment for the region. Annually, South Shore Arts conducts a review of grant applications, awarding approximately $175,000 in grants to arts providers in the three-county region.

John Cain has served South Shore Arts as executive director since 1993 and has been instrumental in its rise as a leader in the cultural life of the Calumet Region.  He has led South Shore Arts through its evolutionary phase, culminating in the opening of its branch locations and designation by the IAC as a Regional Arts Partner.

In 2004, the Northwest Indiana Quality of Life Council published a report, revealing that the arts are the region’s highest rated quality of life indicator. “The Arts are thriving in Northwest Indiana . . . because of its close proximity to the City of Chicago, its location along Lake Michigan’s southern shore and an indigenous arts community that is growing in diversity and strength, Northwest Indiana scores more highly in this indicator category than in any other.” The trend, the report stated, is “vibrant,” the grade, B+. South Shore Arts is proud of the key leadership role it is playing to help create a thriving regional arts community and a vibrant cultural life in our communities.

In recognition of the region’s gradual emergence as a South Shore community, as well as its own strengthening connections to artists and arts organizations beyond the state line, the Northern Indiana Arts Association board of directors voted unanimously to change the organization’s name to South Shore Arts in March, 2006. The South Shore Arts mission statement reflects the growth of a regional network of arts providers under the umbrella of South Shore Arts: Together with our partners, we create and strengthen connections between the socially and culturally diverse communities along the South Shore through youth outreach, quality arts instruction, local, national and international exhibitions and regional arts services.