Keith Haring – Helping Others Climb the Ladder of Success

I’ve had a long career in government and had a brush with greatness when I worked with iconic pop artist Keith Haring shortly before his tragic death at age 31. In the late 1980’s I served as the Director of Employer Relations for the New York State Department of Labor (DOL). My division’s mission was to work with the employers of New York State, assisting them in instilling upon the state’s workforce the skills and education needed to perform the jobs available in an ever more complex labor market.

Preparing young people with the skills and education necessary to successfully enter the labor market would be a major step toward accomplishing this goal. Towards this end, a series of Career and Education Expos in New York City and various up-state cities, in conjunction with a not-for-profit organization, Citykids, was created. The concept was to bring together high school teens with employers and educational institutions, thus exposing these youth to career and educational opportunities.

In order to attract youth to attend the event, DOL needed a catchy advertising gimmick. Artist Keith Haring was asked to participate because of his immense popularity as the voice of the generation. He was already famous for his spontaneous drawings in New York City subways – chalk outlines on blank black advertising-space backgrounds. His unique imagery bridged the gap between urban graffiti and mainstream pop art.

His involvement was the perfect way to motivate young people. He even generously agreed to create the logo pro bono. The project was a great success, resulting a redirection of many young people into more relevant educational programs. Haring’s work was an integral part of the project’s success and I kept a button from the expo all these years.

Upon looking at the button, one can see Haring’s clear message. The benevolent large green figure in the right embodies the “ladder of success” as two young people enthusiastically ascend the steps towards the gold ring at the top. Haring uses his signature style with bright colors to target his audience and communicate the theme perfectly.

by Moe Silver
This article has been submitted by his proud daughter, Debbie Wells!

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