Eye on the Arts: Miller Beach Arts & Creative District

Eye on the Arts: Miller Beach Arts & Creative District


John Cain: Gary’s Miller neighborhood has
experienced a rejuvenation in recent years due in large part to the actions
of the Miller Beach Arts and Creative District. Executive director Meg Roman,
and immediate past board president Karren Lee, share their mission to promote the
area and grow it as an economic engine. [music fades in and plays underneath] Meg Roman: Well, growing up in the sixties and
seventies the street was vibrant. Every single…store business was open and–all
along highways 12 and 20–and then there were several dips and rises and dips and
prior to the arts district being founded, um… it was the very opposite scenario: a lot of
empty buildings a lot of businesse uh, went-went elsewhere. Karren Lee: Well, I think everybody’s aware of the uh
financial crisis that hit in 2008 and that impacted this town. Um, we also had uh, problems
with the uh, tax situation in Gary and that caused many businesses to close or
relocate. So. when the Lake Street became sort of a ghost town a bunch of people got
together and said okay what can we do about this? Some research had been done on arts
districts in other parts of the country and Miller has always been sort of an
artist community. Um, so we decided to form an organization. We incorporated as the
Miller Beach Arts and Creative District We, uh…the first thing we did was pop-up events
in some of the empty buildings where local artists put their work, and the
first one we did which was in, uh, September of 2011 we had over 200 people come
through to look at it, and we thought, okay we’re onto something. [new music plays underneath] Karren: Our mission statement says that it’s [stutters] art–using art as an economic engine, and so, we were concerned with making this a
vibrant community again we wanted the people that had left to come back and
see what was happening to Miller so that’s been very successful. Our goal was
to have as many different things in this building and on the street to uh, appeal
to a wide geographic and demographic audience, and…so we had everything from uh,
opera performances to historic cars on the street. We’ve had um, sixty graffiti
artists come in and transform 25 surfaces on the street in the alley into
public art. We’ve had almost 100 events in the four a half years almost five
years, and we’ve had thirty thousand people that have been on the street, uh, at our
festivals or in gallery here looking at our exhibits
Meg: But we–the arts district does
primarily, art as a catalyst for economic development, but we also do several things
that I don’t think everybody knows about. So, one of our committees um, is very heavily
involved in the more planning stages and the longer term
things that are going to be happening in the city so…with strong cities strong
communities which is a President Obama initiative we are involved with trying to improve the
economic um… …environment around the train station. This
idea of transportation oriented development of the train, possible lodging or hotel at
the lake shore at the end of Lake Street…and so we keep involved with lots of civic things that are
happening. Everybody’s in here for the same reason and the people of this
community are really what make it. The volunteers who, you know, clean up the
trash in the park and the beach, who plant the the beautiful flowers in the planters, who…whenever there’s an issue or something that needs to be addressed, this
community really comes together and finds a solution and it’s very attractive to people from
outside and it’s a wonderful experience to be a part of that [music playing] Meg: We have ten new businesses that have opened since 2011, four in the last four months. This momentum and excitement is definitely spreading and it’s helping, it’s literally, helping everybody be better at what they’re doing. It very much so has had a positive impact on the economic
development of the community as well as just the psychological, you know, people
are energized now, and they’re excited about things and they’re looking forward to
the next event, and the offshoot of what those events bring about which is new businesses,
coffee shops, restaurants, galleries… Karren: The other thing I think as far as our
impact is for many years there was nothing here to do. People would have to
drive out of here to see anything or do anything. And now, there’s so much activity
that people can’t get to all the things that are happening in Miller so it’s
very much alive. [new music plays underneath] Well, we have an event almost every single weekend, and it ranges from films or poetry to…right now we have a–Lighthouse Charter Schools, 4 schools have come together to have their art showcase. Um, so there’s always something. If-if what we’re doing this weekend doesn’t appeal to you, um, in a couple weeks we’ll have
something else. And we do things both indoor and outdoor, we collaborate
with other organizations, we do concerts, dances, so…I would just tell you to stop by and see what we have going [on]. Visit millerbeacharts.org for more on the multitude of events and programs offered by the Miller Beach Arts and Creative District. [music fades out]

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