Restoration Completed on Keith Haring’s Mural ‘Crack is Wack’ in East Harlem




Completed mural. Photo credit: NYC Parks

A restoration of the historic, two-sided mural ‘Crack is Wack‘ by Keith Haring was underway on the East Harlem handball court located on Harlem River Drive at 128th Street (Second Avenue). It was inspired by the crack epidemic and its effect on the community.

NYC Parks and the Keith Haring Foundation are pleased to announce today that the restoration of Keith Haring’s “Crack is Wack” has been completed. The mural was refurbished and repainted by artists Louise Hunnicutt and William Tibbals, and the project was sponsored by the Keith Haring Foundation.

Completed mural. Photo credit: NYC Parks

Famed “graffiti artist” Keith Haring (1958-1990) painted the fanciful mural, located at East 128th Street and the Harlem River Drive, in 1986. Painted on a handball court wall, the mural is composed of Haring’s signature kinetic figures and abstract forms in bold outlines. The mural cautions against crack cocaine, whose use reached epidemic proportions in the mid-to-late 1980s.

The “Crack is Wack” mural has been repainted with the same design on multiple occasions, most recently in 2012. The latest restoration was completed following a three-year reconstruction of portions of the Harlem River Drive adjacent to the mural. Much of the paint on the concrete wall was exfoliating, so Hunnicutt and Tibbals repainted the mural with a more durable paint system. The artists made precise tracings in sections of the designs on both wall faces, then mechanically removed all loose paint. The wall was then patched and properly sealed. Several base coats of fixative were applied, followed by base coats of color-matched paint. The design was then recreated using the tracings and consultation with original photographic documentation.

Restoration of Crack is Wack begins (August 12, 2019)

“The ‘Crack is Wack’ mural is a testament to the enduring power of Haring’s art, which arose first in public spaces,” said NYC Parks Director of Art & Antiquities Jonathan Kuhn. “We are grateful to the conservators and the Keith Haring Foundation for its continuing support to preserve this mural’s vibrancy and flair for all to see.”

“We are thrilled that ‘Crack Is Wack’ has been restored to its original glory,” said Keith Haring Foundation Acting Director and President Gil Vazquez. “It is a huge source of pride for our city and a lasting reminder of Keith’s legacy and political activism. We’d like to thank the Parks Department for its stewardship of the mural and park as well as Louise Hunnicut and her team for the great work on the restoration.”

Image taken August 12 2019, Louise Hunnicutt undertaking the huge restoration of the iconic mural

Keith Haring (1958-1990) painted the East Harlem mural in 1986, on one side of a handball court without permission at East 128th Street and the Harlem River Drive. It was a composition of Haring’s signature kinetic figures and abstract forms in bold outlines ~ sixteen feet tall and twenty-six feet wide, and cautioned against the use of drugs. Haring was fined $200 for the mural created without permission by New York City.

Close-up of the restoration work

The illegally created mural, painted as an anti-drug message to the community, was quickly painted over by others, who changed the wording ‘Crack is Wack’ to ‘Crack Is It’ ~ a disappointment to New York City Park, who liked the original Haring mural, and commissioned the artist to recreate it, this time on both sides of the handball court.

The iconic mural was covered several years ago to protect it from construction merging Harlem River Drive, and it has stayed under cover until this week when The Keith Haring Foundation and Parks commissioned its restoration.

The restoration is underway by artist Louise Hunnicutt. With assistance, Hunnicutt has undertaken the tedious work of scraping off flaking paint, filling with sealer and concrete, and resurfacing damaged areas in the heat of this summer’s sun.

Closeup of the restoration work currently on the north side of the handball court

Hunnicutt is no stranger to restoring works by the iconic artist. In 2010 and again in 2012, she worked with Parks Department masons to repair the concrete wall supporting the Keith Haring mural at the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center, with sponsorship from the Keith Haring Foundation.

Here you can see restoration work being done on the north side of the wall, and the depth of the wall

Louise Hunnicutt has more than twenty-years experience,, specializing in hand-painted scenic work for television, museums, galleries, theaters, print advertising, murals, special effects and private homes. Her work has included special effects for Sony’s Spiderman, and Machu Picchu exhibition for Yale University to name just two.

Restoration work, facing north

The Crack is Wack Playground, located on Second Avenue between 127th/128th Streets and Harlem River Drive, is one of six parcels of land that collectively form Harlem River Park ~ and runs from East 125th Street to East 155th Street along Harlem River Drive. This parcel of land was transferred to New York City Parks in 1956 from the Board of Estimate. The handball court, basketball courts and trees were added the following year.

august 12 2019 restoration

The Crack is Wack mural was last restored by The Haring Foundation in July 1995.

Today, more than fifty pieces of Keith Haring’s public art, including two iconic murals, still stand today in New York City parks. In addition to Crack is Wack, check out the Carmine Street Pool mural at Tony Dapolito Recreation Center on Carmine Street just west of Seventh Avenue South.

the back side (south side)

Keith Haring was born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1958. His father was an amateur cartoonist, sparking his son’s early interest in art.  Haring was diagnosed with AIDS and passed away in 1990 at the age of 32.

south side view which is next to be restored. Anticipated completion is end of 2019

The mural, Crack is Wack, is under the protection and jurisdiction of New York City Department of Parks.

The Crack is Wack Park is located at the entrance to the Third Avenue Bridge to the Bronx, and physically sits in an area of East Harlem now undergoing substantial building. Just blocks away from the 126th Street East Harlem African Burial Ground, and Bjarke Ingels new luxury residences and not far from the Lexington Avenue #4,5,6 subway station and Metro North Station.

Located on Second Avenue between 127128th Streets in East Harlem
A clean canvas! August 26, 2019

Now ~ to reconstruct.

Taking a closer look. August 26, 2019. Front and back are identical.


September 30, 2019 (below) ~ Progress!

Sept 30 2019


Sept 30 2019


Sept 30 2019


Sept 30 2019


Sept 30 2019

Stay Tuned!

Check out cool video from amny on work in progress!

More on East Harlem’s 125th Street, a work in progress.

Don’t get lost. Get an East Harlem Map.

In addition to “Crack is Wack,” Haring painted a large mural at the Carmine Recreation Center’s outdoor pool in Lower Manhattan in 1987. Keith Haring died on February 16, 1990. Not yet 32 years old, he left a legacy of art which was popular on a universal level, and had also garnered widespread critical acclaim. The Keith Haring Foundation, established in his memory, continues to support the causes he championed.

2 thoughts on “Restoration Completed on Keith Haring’s Mural ‘Crack is Wack’ in East Harlem

  1. I’m a New York City artist, I’ve worked on murals at the World Trade Center. I want to help here. How can I get in touch?

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