The Jackson 5 mural on Lake Street in Gary's Miller neighborhood has prompted countless people to stop and whip out their phones to take pictures since artist Felix "Flex" Maldanado painted it two years ago at the Lake Effekt graffiti expo.

Passers-by have snapped selfies in front of the sweeping black-and-white painting of the Gary natives. Models and bands have struck poses in front of it and the other colorful graffiti art pieces that adorn Gary's quirky lakefront neighborhood. The Jackson 5 mural proved so popular that Maldanado was asked to do a four-story-tall version on the side of a downtown building.

The original Jackson 5 mural between the Illinois Bell Telephone building and the Miller Bakery Cafe in downtown Miller Beach has faded and peeled over the past two years. It eventually will need to be removed because it's on a billboard in front of a burned-down building.

Though it will need to be moved, the Miller Beach Arts and Creative District plans to preserve the mural, Executive Director Meg Roman said. Maldanado will touch up the work, and the arts district doesn't yet know what it will do with it.

The Miller Beach Arts and Creative District runs the Miller Beach Farmers Market from May through September and the 5,000-square-foot Marshall J. Gardner Center for the Arts at 540 S Lake St., where it stages about 30 exhibits, movies and events a year.

This summer, the arts district will bring back its two biggest signature events: the sandcastle competition in July and the and the Lake Effekt graffit expo on June 17. For the first time, local builders and architects will be invited to square off in the sandcastle contest at Gary's Miller Beach.

"We try to expand and improve on it every year," Roman said. "It's a fun competition that in the past has primarily focused on individuals, youth and families. We wanted to make it more competitive, build it up. We thought it would be fun to have people in the building trade showing their skills and talents, competing against their peers to step it up a notch."

The arts district also will bring back Lake Effekt, the biannual street festival where graffiti artists decorate the community's business corridor on Lake Street with big, vibrant murals. People can watch them create their art during a daylong fair that will include a beer tent and assorted arts and craft vendors.

This year's Lake Effekt will feature Madanado, Ish Muhammad, Zor, ZorZorZor and the legendary Crazy Indiana Style Artists, or CISA, crew from East Chicago.

"With the growing acceptance of street art and graffiti writing as a sign of community revitalization, an objective for Lake Effekt 2017 is to create a diverse and inclusive environment where the community is engaged, through participation, in the process of revitalization through public art," Muhammad said. 

Miller residents and business owners will be asked to give input on what they'd like to see this year at public meetings in the spring.

The arts district also hopes to stage outdoor concerts this year and create an artist membership program where members can get sneak peeks at exhibits and take part in workshops, such as for marketing and development. Then there will of course be the usual gallery exhibitions and movie screenings.

"We hope to create space for established as well as up-and-coming artists," Roman said. "We're looking for as diverse offerings as possible to appeal to the greatest number of people."

For more information, visit millerbeacharts.org.


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.