Back in the summer of 1986, artist Keith Haring illegally painted his "Crack Is Wack" mural on an abandoned handball court in a park near Harlem River Drive in one day. He was inspired to paint it after his studio assistant, Benny, had become addicted to crack, and after several failed attempts to help Benny get clean. Haring was quoted saying he was “inspired by Benny, and appalled by what was happening in the country, but especially New York, and seeing the slow reaction (as usual) of the government to respond, I decided I had to do an anti-crack painting.”
Haring was caught by cops and arrested, but because of positive coverage of his message, he ended up only being given a small fine and zero jail time. The mural had been defaced in the meantime, but the Parks Department reached out to him and asked him to do a new two-sided mural with their blessing. After Haring's death in 1990, that piece became one of his most famous works, and that part of Harlem River Park was renamed the Crack Is Wack Playground.
It was restored in 1995, 2007 and most recently in 2012; then a few years ago, the Parks Department covered it to protect it from construction happening nearby. The covering was finally taken off this summer for another much-needed restoration, commissioned by the Keith Haring Foundation and Parks Department and overseen by artist Louise Hunnicutt.
Keith Haring's "Crack is Wack" mural is back! Join us live with the conservator at this icon in East Harlem. https://t.co/vSJyhbUZyg
— NYC Parks (@NYCParks) October 2, 2019
That restoration is now just about done, as you can see in the photos and video above. If you want to visit it, it's located on Second Avenue between 127th and 128th Streets and Harlem River Drive.
Haring has more than 50 other pieces of public art still up around the city as well—you can check out a video about two of his murals below.