Perhaps one of the most famous art works by Keith Harring, the 'CRACK IS WACK' mural on a handball court in Harlem, NYC has an interesting story behind it.
During the rise of graffiti and street art in the 1970s and 80s in New York, crack was becoming a major problem in the city with many people suffering from an addicition to the new drug.
The government and city did not have a handle on the crack epidemic, and it was affecting many people, including a close friend and talented artist/studio assitant to Harring named Benny.
Benny struggled with an addiction to crack, was in and out of hospitals and treatment programs but was having trouble shaking the addiction. Keith Harring was very distressed watching his close friend suffer and decided to do something about it.
Harring had discovered an old handball court near 128th Street and the Harlem River Drive, which was almost like a billboard due to its close proximity to a major street.
Using only orange flourescent paint and black paint, Harring completed the original 'Crack is Wack' mural in one day, without permission from the city but with no problems during the process.
After finishing though, a police officer noticed Harring and his friends smoking a joint in the park and observing the day's work on the mural. The officer started asking questions and realized that Harring didn't have the right to paint the wall in the first place. Harring was arrested and looked like he could be facing some fines and jail time.
But the mural had become popular almost overnight, with news crews and newspapers covering the crack problems in New York City, they often used shots of the mural as background footage or as a photo for a story in the paper.
Soon someone from the New York Post realized that Harring was facing trouble for the actual mural when they requested to do an interview with him about the mural. The mural, which really had a positive message and was something the city needed to rally around, had become very synonymous at this point with the war on the crack epidemic.
Mayor Koch was even quoted saying, "We need to find somewhere for Harring to paint."
Eventually, Harring was only fined $100 and he was allowed to repaint the mural when it needed touch ups or if he wanted to re do it with different characters or designs.
Before Harring passed away, he painted the mural one more time.
Crack is wack, Keith Harring was truly an amazing individual, we need more people willing to stand up for causes like he did today.
PHOTOS AND INSIGHT VIA THE HUFFINGTON POST