One side of Haring’s handball-wall mural. Image courtesy of Medina Black.
In the late 1980s, just as the crack-cocaine epidemic gained momentum urban areas including New York City, artist Keith Haring stumbled across a very reasonable way to spread an anti-drug message to the demographic that needed it most: Why not paint a playground? He may not have known that the resultant mural, painted without the park’s permission, would survive as long as it did.
Haring painted his black-on-orange CRACK IS WACK mural on both sides of a brick handball wall in an East Harlem playground. Nowadays, the playground, near East 128th and Second Avenue, is officially known as the “Crack is Wack Playground.” The mural’s wit and sharp, colorful aesthetic have made it a favorite among locals. In fact, Gotham Scenic––a group of artists specializing in mural restoration and set design––even pinpointed the wall for restoration in 2007, restoring the oranges and blacks to their original crisp brightness.
Sadly, the artist passed away from AIDS in 1990, and the mural is one of the few remaining Keith Haring pieces thought to still survive in the city. There’s another great mural in the bathroom of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in the East Village. In contrast, Keith Haring’s work is in many places in Paris, including a church!