The Chicago Mural Created by a Famous Artist and Hundreds of Students

Daniel Hautzinger
The mural Keith Haring created in Chicago with students in 1989.

You many not know his name, but you would definitely recognize his art. Keith Haring's bold-outlined, bold-colored figures of dancing people, barking dogs, beaming hearts, and crawling babies became ubiquitous during his short career in the 1980s, on t-shirts, walls, magnets, prints, album covers, Grace Jones's body, Madonna's clothing – and it's still iconic, so much so that younger people might not even realize it's the creation of a single artist.

In May, 1989, at the height of his fame – and less than a year from his death of AIDS in February, 1990 – Haring visited Chicago to create a 488-foot-long mural in Grant Park with hundreds of Chicago Public School students. Haring had been invited by Irving Zucker, a teacher at William H. Wells Community Academy in Ukrainian Village. Together with CPS and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Zucker and Haring organized an arts education project: Haring would paint outlines in black on 122 4x8-foot panels, then the students would fill in the lines like a coloring book with whatever they liked, in five shades of paint.

Those panels stood in Grant Park for only a week, and then were distributed across Chicago: some to CPS schools, some into storage, and 36 to Midway Airport. Those 36 panels are now on display at the Chicago Cultural Center through September 23 in a free exhibition that also includes ephemera from Haring's weeklong stay in Chicago: photos, t-shirt drawings, plans, correspondence, and more. (While here, Haring also painted two murals at Rush University Medical Center and Zucker's school.)

You can see Haring drawing on some of those t-shirts in Off the Wall with Keith and the Kids, the documentary WTTW made chronicling this unique mural collaboration, below. "I'm still a kid at heart," Haring says in the video. "One of the reasons I keep doing thins like this is to stay aware, stay in touch with it. It's mutually beneficial. For them, it's interesting to be able to be part of a project that has sort of international recognition. For me, it makes it much more real and much less pretentious."

Keith Haring
From the Archive