Jun 15 2020

The Activism of Keith Haring

Home to many queer landmarks, Philadelphia was, and is, an integral part of the movement towards equal rights for LGBTQIA people. One of our favorite artists – Pennsylvania-born Keith Haring (1958-1990) – famously graced our fair city with his unforgettable mural “We the Youth” at the corners of 22nd and Ellsworth Streets.


What many don’t know is that Keith Haring was also an AIDS activist whose legacy of advocacy has left an even more indelible mark. In the 1980s, an organization called ACT UP grew out of the grassroots efforts of queer people and their loved ones. Based in New York City, as was Haring at the time, the group staged peaceful protests to promote awareness of HIV and AIDS.


Haring’s support of ACT UP is evidenced in many of the pieces that he created during this period, including the noteworthy 1989 poster “Ignorance = Fear”. Borrowing the title directly from ACT UP literature and activations, Haring created a warning in his uniquely approachable visual language. The result was a piece that challenged taboo and inspired conversation and education around HIV/AIDS throughout the United States.


Keith Haring, Ignorance = Fear

Photo: © Keith Haring Foundation


But supporting the HIV/AIDS community was not Haring’s only cause. As a pop artist whose work was heavily influenced by street art and video game art, he was also very active with groups that sought to offer artistic opportunities to disadvantaged children. Returning to our favorite mural (yes, we’re biased and yes, we’ve written about it before), “We the Youth” was created in collaboration with The CityKids Foundation as one such opportunity. Here, the artist can be seen describing the collaboration as the teenage artists and neighbors share their early reactions to the piece. First painted in 1987 (which explains the music and image quality in that video), the mural and its adjoining park have provided a signal of hope to queer people and to all neighborhood residents – an oasis of color and celebration, a place for stickball and quiet reflection alike.


Keith Haring We the Youth

Photo: Jackie Papanier


Haring’s activism continues posthumously through the efforts of The Keith Haring Foundation. Issuing grants of support to philanthropic missions all around the US, the foundation has contributed to the Guggenheim Museum, Moma PS1, a long list of Planned Parenthoods, The Trevor Project, The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, and many more. Here you can see the last 28 years of The Keith Haring Foundation’s outreach. Should your non-profit deal in the philanthropic areas of Youth, HIV/AIDS, or Arts and Culture, consider submitting an application for funding – they’re accepted on a rolling basis.


Donate to the National Center for Transgender Equity
Donate to CityKids Foundation
Donate to the Mural Arts Program
Donate to Philly Aids


“We the Youth” Sponsors and Credits
ASSISTED BY: CityKids Philadelphia + NYC
PARTNERS: Brandywine Workshop, CityKids Foundation
© Keith Haring Foundation
RESTORED BY: Mural Arts Philadelphia
PARTNERS: Keith Haring Foundation
SPONSORS: Keith Haring Foundation, City of Philadelphia

Back To Blog