May 4, 2024 - Jan 7, 2025

If the public is afraid of art, should we be afraid of what we have done to make the public afraid of art?
—Keith Haring, 1978

Opening on Keith Haring’s birthday, this exhibition celebrates the artist’s legacy and honors the many individuals who shaped his visits to Iowa City during the 1980s. The 1989 mural Haring painted for Ernest Horn Elementary School, which is on loan to the Stanley Museum of Art during the school’s renovation, anchors the exhibition and is accompanied by other works of art, photographs, and archival ephemera. 

For Keith Haring (American, 1958­–1990), art was foundational to civic life. Raised in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, Haring rose to international fame in the 1980s for the street art he made in New York City, where he found acceptance living as an openly gay man. Over the course of his brief career, Haring reimagined art’s centers of production, its impact, and its audiences. His subway drawings, scrawled in chalk on sheets of black paper pasted over advertisements, equated transit stations with classrooms. Haring’s artwork promoted racial and sexual tolerance while addressing global issues such as nuclear disarmament, the AIDS epidemic, apartheid states, and environmental devastation.

Thanks to the efforts of Colleen Ernst, a teacher at Ernest Horn Elementary School affectionately known as “Dr. Art,” Haring traveled to Iowa City in March 1984. Ernst had introduced her fifth- and sixth-grade students to Haring’s work, and, as she wrote in an introductory postcard to him, “they were fascinated.” What began as an exchange of letters and care packages between Haring and the grade-schoolers grew into a three-day residency. This was organized in partnership with the University of Iowa and with support from many individuals, including the school’s principal, Paul Davis. Haring conducted workshops with students, completed a painting at the Old Capitol Center to the accompaniment of the Johnson County Landmark Band, and delivered a lecture at the University of Iowa Museum of Art, where he was the subject of a small exhibition.

At the invitation of Ernst and Davis, and with the assistance of the Horn Parent Teacher Organization, Haring returned to Iowa City for a single day in 1989. On May 22, which was proclaimed Keith Haring Day at the school, he painted a mural titled A Book Full of Fun in the story well. A Book Full of Fun pays tribute to the literary imagination, depicting an open book and a thought bubble above it swirling with whimsical characters, letters, and numbers.

Keith Haring posing in front of his mural at Horn Elementary
Keith Haring posing with A Book Full of Fun, 1989. 
Photo by Rodney White. © Keith Haring Foundation
Paul E. Davis, principal of Ernest Horn Elementary School, Keith Haring, and art teacher Colleen Ernst pose in front of the school
Paul E. Davis, principal of Ernest Horn Elementary School, Keith Haring, and art teacher Colleen Ernst pose in front of the school, 1989. 
Photographer unknown. Image courtesy of Colleen Ernst.

Keith Haring | Rediscovering the Iowa City mural

Discover the fascinating process of transferring Keith Haring's mural from the walls of Horn Elementary to the Stanley Museum of Art.

This exhibition considers that mural alongside works on loan from the Keith Haring Foundation. An early video titled Painting Myself into a Corner deepens an appreciation of the scale and performativity of Haring’s work in relation to someone like Jackson Pollock, whose monumental 1943 Mural is on view in the adjacent gallery. The same year that Haring completed A Book Full of Fun, he also produced Ignorance=Fear, Silence=Death. This print called for people to educate themselves about AIDS and exercise compassion for one another. More broadly, its union of text and image raises questions about freedom of expression and activist strategies, issues particularly relevant to our current moment when knowledge is threatened by censorship and erasure.

Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, and he established the Keith Haring Foundation the following year. He died from complications related to the illness in 1990, less than a year after painting A Book Full of Fun. To My Friends at Horn: Keith Haring and Iowa City reflects on Haring’s time in Iowa and its afterlives for members of our community. It also demonstrates how the artist continues to reach people who need to hear his message.

Keith Haring at work on the mural at Ernest Horn Elementary School

Share your memories of Keith Haring's trip to Iowa City


Keith Haring (1958–1990) was a revolutionary graffiti artist. The Stanley Museum of Art will commemorate Haring's visits to Iowa City in 1984 and 1989 with an upcoming exhibition, and we want you to be involved! 

Scheduled to open on May 4, 2024, To My Friends at Horn: Keith Haring and Iowa City will celebrate the artist's ties to our community. We hope to locate individuals who were a part of Haring's visits and incorporate their stories into the show. 

If you or someone you know was at Horn Elementary School, or met the artist during his trips to Iowa City (1984 and 1989), or if you have any related photos, drawings, or other memorabilia, we want to hear from you!

Image Gallery

To My Friends at Horn: Keith Haring and Iowa City has been supported by generous grants from the Henry Luce Foundation and the Keith Haring Foundation with additional support from the Beth and Nate Tross Stanley Museum of Art Support Fund, the Tom Rocklin and Barbara McFadden Program Fund, the Don Heineking Fund for Exhibitions and Programs, the Friends of the Museum Fund, and the Members Special Exhibition Fund.