keith haring is getting priced out of harlem

Sixteen tenants have been forced to leave a Harlem communal living space that also houses a forgotten Keith Haring mural.

by Annie Armstrong
03 August 2016, 4:10pm

Not even New York's most treasured artists are immune from the influx of gentrification. In Morningside Heights, a little-known Haring mural was found inside a former convent-turned-communal living space known as Grace Church. Inside, the "Radiant Baby" greets tenants in the lobby, while Haring's signature human figures and barking dogs dance up the stairs for three floors, covering 85 feet in total.

Unfortunately, Grace Church has just been slated for redevelopment. The building housed sixteen tenants who have now been priced out of the previously rent-controlled space. The fates of the mural and those displaced are currently unknown.

The community-oriented building gave shelter to artists and young families, and was known for being one of the area's most affordable buildings. According to DNAinfo, one tenant is moving back to Oregon with his family, one is couch-surfing indefinitely, and one is even considering moving to a shelter. Those priced out aren't leaving without a fight, however, and have issued a lawsuit against the eviction. One tenant, Yana Sabeva, has reached out to the Keith Haring Foundation for help in protecting their rights as leasees and the rights of the mural, which she describes as "a connection to my own personal past."

The mural gained public recognition thanks to a 2007 New York Times piece, in which, where the Keith Haring Foundation's director Julia Gruen praised it, saying, "In terms of the imagery, it's like a lexicon of his vocabulary… It is quite remarkable that this mural has not been generally acknowledged."

During his career, Haring was known for putting his murals in places that didn't just serve the art world. According to the same Times piece, Haring had met two tenants of Grace Church, Benny Soto and David Almodovar, in 1983 at dance club Paradise Garage. Six months later, Haring was in Harlem, painting the mural that (for now) remains there today. 


Text Annie Armstrong
Keith Haring at work at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1986. Photo courtesy Rob Bogaerts, via Wikimedia Commons.

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