Anthony Lewellen was one of them. At the time, he was a 16-year-old art student at a local high school who spent his free time skateboarding and tagging walls with his nickname, “Tony El.” He also watched MTV, where he’d seen Haring’s work in a Grace Jones video. “He saturated pop culture, even at that point,” Lewellen said. “So I was aware of his work on that level, but not intimately by any means.”
Soon, however, Lewellen was watching Haring paint in person. The artist began the mural by outlining a tapestry of his signature shapes and figures in black—like “a big coloring book,” Lewellen recalled. The students were then brought to the site, located in area of Grant Park now known as Millennium Park, over a span of five days. They were given instructions, paint, and brushes by Haring and his team and quickly went to work filling in the outlines.
Zucker was struck by Haring’s natural instincts as a mentor and teacher. “When he was with the kids, he was so happy. And they knew it! He was gentle and kind and funny,” Zucker said. “It was never forced. He loved hanging out with that age group and watching them express themselves.” Photographs from the event capture students concentrating hard on their designated sections, or smiling wide with Haring as he gives them pointers or paints on their T-shirts and baseball caps—beloved souvenirs from the project.