GARY | Two years ago, Lake Effekt transformed the Miller Beach neighborhood in Gary by livening up the Lake Street commercial strip with bright colorful murals and the landmark "You are beautiful" sign.
All but a few of the graffiti pieces will disappear this summer, and 17 to 20 new ones will take their place, said Ish Muhammad, an East Chicago-based artist who helped come up with the idea with the Miller Beach Arts & Creative District.
Lake Effekt is coming back this year. The big street fair — where graffiti crews will create vibrant murals on Lake Street while onlookers can enjoy a beer tent and browse arts and craft vendors — takes place from noon to 8 p.m. June 13.
The project includes an art exhibit at the Marshall J. Gardner Center for the Arts, 540 S. Lake St., that opens Friday and runs for three weeks.
"With the exhibit inside, they'll be very shocked," Miller Beach Arts & Creative District Executive Director Meg Roman said. "It's not what they'll expect to see. It's different. Some pieces are more like stencils painted with a spray can."
Thirteen artists who make graffiti art or are inspired by it, including Traz, Eightr, Teel and C3P0, will display their work at the gallery.
"It's various artists, including those who are internationally known and those who are local professors at the Art Institute," Muhammad said. "It's a lot of the street art pioneers in Chicagoland who were pioneers in the Midwest. We've been doing this for 30 years."
The original Lake Effekt project — which included pieces later displayed at the Chicago Cultural Center in the Loop — helped Miller have the look of an arts district, Muhammad said.
This time, artists have secured canvas space on more buildings, including the Ming Ling Cantonese Restaurant that was painted Wednesday. They should push the envelope with more beautiful, abstract pieces, Muhammad said.
The idea is to make Miller more of a cultural destination and give people more of a reason to stop and explore the neighborhood on their way to the beach this summer.
"Lake effect means snow and winter," he said. "But the other lake effect, which this refers to, is when the weather gets better and people hit the water skis and sand castles and the trail along the lake. It's relaxing."
A big goal is to show graffiti can be an energizing, transformative force in a neighborhood.
"The current stereotype is graffiti decreases property values," Muhammad said. "But the Miller Beach Arts & Creative District has used it to create something interesting, to make something happen with colors and energy. Businesses have been opening."
For more information, visit millerbeacharts.org.