Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Keith Haring's sister shares pop artist's legacy in new book

He was the young boy from Kutztown who couldn't, and wouldn't, stop drawing. From doodling on his test papers, selling his bike to buy art supplies, drawing wiggly lines inspired by the crazy body shapes of break dancing, and filling the walls of subway stations with his chalk drawings. This was Keith Haring, perhaps the most generous and humblest of artists during the 1980s, whose life was cut short in 1990 at the age of 31 from AIDS.

Now, his sister, Kay Haring, talks about her pop-artist brother as a person who made art available for everyone, including Berks County, in her new picture book for young readers, "Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing," published by Dial and illustrated by Robert Neubecker, along with images of Keith's artwork.

Kay, 56, who resides in southern California, spent many years working and volunteering for nonprofits, in management and fundraising capacities, back in Berks County. She also held board positions with nonprofits related to the arts, including the Berks Arts Council.

In a phone interview last week from Utah, Kay talked about her brother and ran down an itinerary of this week's visit back home, where she'll be present on Friday at Kutztown Area Middle School's sixth grade art exhibition inspired by the art of Keith Haring and a book-signing from 6 to 8 p.m. Book sales will benefit the Kutztown Area Education Foundation.

On Saturday, she'll be holding a book-signing from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading, where a private event paying tribute to Albert Boscov will follow. Boscov, co-founder and visionary behind the GoggleWorks, passed away on February 10 at the age of 87. He was chair of Boscov's Department Stores and a staunch supporter and philanthropist of the arts in the Berks community.

Kay also will be part of the Allentown Art Museum's "Artventures" family program on October 15 from noon to 4 p.m., with activities inspired by Keith Haring and a book signing/reading beginning at 12:30 p.m.

Keith Haring, born May 4, 1958, most certainly was an iconic artist during the 1980s for his bold, whimsical and continuous free-form creations. Whether it was barking dogs or crawling babies, which art critics labeled "The Radiant Baby" and "The Dancing Dog," his art left an indelible mark on American culture and captured the likes of such celebrities as Madonna, Grace Jones, Yoko Ono, and Andy Warhol.

He was the eldest child of Allen and Joan Haring, with sisters Kay, Karen and Kristen, and the family dog, Mumbo. He learned basic cartooning from his dad, which led to studies at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh and the School of Visual Arts in New York City. His simple chalk line was his signature on universal concepts of birth, death, love, and war, and later messages about how people should be treated with respect and equality.

The year before his death, he established the Keith Haring Foundation, providing funding to AIDS organizations and underserved youth, and to expand his audience with his message. He also continued his world travels, generating activism and awareness about AIDS through his imagery.

Kay Haring's mission behind her book is to honor her brother's spirit and "pay tribute to a life devoted to celebrating the goodness in all human life." She's donating 25 percent of her proceeds from the book to the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) of the Berks County Community Foundation, which empowers high school students to address issues facing young people in their community by raising and distributing funds to meet those needs.

"I wanted to get the message across of how generous Keith was, not only in his time but in making his art available to everyone," Kay said. "It was his way of giving back... He loved encouraging kids and even conducted art projects with an after-school church youth group in Reading."

Stories in the book about Keith literally giving away his art are true, Kay confirmed. During high school, a couple from town wanted to buy his work, which placed first in show, but Keith wouldn't accept monies. Instead, he thanked them and told them if they enjoyed his art, they could hang it on their wall – "no charge!" He just wanted to keep drawing.

When he painted a mural during a neighborhood cleanup, it was well-received by residents but not by a policeman, who fined him for not getting permission. Keith paid the fine and, of course, just kept drawing. And when all his artwork sold at a local gallery, he gave his monies away to those in need. He said he read in the newspaper that there are kids who don't have enough to eat.

"I didn't have this money yesterday and I was happy. If I don't have it tomorrow, I'd still be happy. All children need to eat. I'll send the money to them."

His murals continued throughout the world for all to enjoy, on the exterior of Necker children's hospital six stories high in Paris, to a commemorative vinyl fabric displaying an outline of the Statue of Liberty at 100 years old containing the drawings of nearly 1,000 kids.

What would Keith Haring be like in today's world?

"He was active in issues that were current in his life," Kay replied. "He would be having a voice with his art. That's just what he did."

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Twenty years ago, Civic Theatre of Allentown was recognized as the first community theater to produce both parts of the iconic Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning "Angels in America," in repertory. Now, 20 years later, many in that cast are stepping into the same roles for the anniversary production of Tony Kushner's groundbreaking two-play masterpiece opening Friday through May 20 at Civic's historic 19th Street Theatre.

Part one, "Millennium Approaches," will begin Friday; part two, "Perestroika," will begin May 11. Both parts will run back-to-back on May 13 and May 20.

The anniversary production, subtitled "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes," spans the Reagan-Bush eras and spirals around the AIDS crisis in 1980s New York, weaving the lives of fictional and historical characters into a feverish web of social, political and sexual revelations.

The play currently is running at London's National Theatre.

Lehigh Valley veteran actor Barry Glassman returns as Roy Cohn, who's described in the show as 'the polestar of human evil … like the worst human who ever lived.'

"Roy was a homosexual at that horrendous point in our country's history where that fact being exposed would have affected his critically essential self-image and his ability to be effective as a lawyer," Glassman said. "…I believe he truly was concerned about communist infiltration in our government, and got entranced by the power of national recognition and the ugly power of political influence. He was well aware that at the end, he would be remembered for his work in those (McCarthy) trials above everything and it bothered him tremendously. …Internally, I need to understand how he became what he became and approach the role with some level of understanding. But the fact is he is who he is, and that is who the audience will see. Hopefully."

Gretchen K. Furst, who returns as Harper Pitt, said the opportunity to play the role again is not something she takes for granted.

"To live and breathe the words of this play, written by a man whose work celebrates and shares the human desire to grow and keep moving forward in spite of devastation and heartbreak, the significance of maintaining a sense of humor in the face of great pain, as well as the ‘magic of the theater’ at every turn, is a treasure for me," Furst said.

Also returning in her role as The Angel is Lehigh Valley veteran actress JoAnn Wilchek Basist.

New cast members are Will Morris as Prior Walter, Troy Brokenshire as Louis Ironson, Jason Roth as Joe Pitt, Susan Sneeringer as Hannah Pitt, and Adam Newborn as Belize.

In an email interview, Sanders said that, although his three original actors are portraying the same characters, "they are approaching them with 20 additional years of life experience behind them…and 20 years of history that has proven the prophetic nature of Kushner's dialogue."

Sanders said the challenge of working with the new cast members alongside those actors who have done the play together before "is to allow them the time to grow into the complicated characters Kushner creates, to direct, but not to stifle."

When asked what we can learn from the play, he replied, "In some ways, society as a whole has learned very little. We remain a nation embroiled in political corruption replete with a driving greed for power, seeking justice as we perpetrate bigotry, expounding moral platitudes as we turn a blind eye to inhumanity, and craving love and respect as we spew hatred and narcissism.

"Perhaps the remarkable relevance of this piece 20 years later should teach us that change is most possibly an illusion," he continued. "In the play, a character says, 'the world only spins forward...' I think this is physically true but metaphorically false. There is progress but also so many steps back."

For Glassman, "Change happens slowly, and the road isn't a straight line. For me, this piece makes me realize how hard that progress is, and not to be frustrated by that. We cannot be impatient with the slowness of change, but play our own role in our lives and in the lives of our communities to guide that change in a positive direction, while we do all we can to make our lives more enjoyable and productive in that ‘spec’ of time we are gifted with on this earth."

Sanders said he would like Civic audiences to leave "at least temporarily transformed and/or empowered by this remarkable work. I would like them to think about the possibility of change, even if change is frightening and the discomfort of the status quo is perhaps just that, a discomfort to which they have become accustomed."

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Emmaus High School honor roll senior Autumn Weber will be crowned Queen of the May at the annual spring fling celebration organized by the Lock Ridge Theater Players on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. at Lock Ridge Park in Alburtis, Lehigh County. The 2 p.m. pageant is held in classic English tradition with Renaissance music and Maypole dancing. Director is Francine Confer of Dance Connection in Alburtis.

The daughter of Jason and Susan Weber of Alburtis, Autumn has been participating in the pageant since age 3. She also attends Lehigh Career and Technical Institute. Later this month, she will receive the Elmer Gates Enterprise Award in recognition of scholastic achievement, school and community involvement, entrepreneurial spirit, and involvement in Skills USA. She plans to study communications at Kutztown University.

The pageant was conceived in the 1980s by the late author/local historian Jean Stoneback.

For further info: 610-966-4663   


"Little Shop of Horrors" will be presented by Star of the Day Event Productions beginning Friday through May 20 at McCoole's Arts & Events Place, 10 South Main Street, Quakertown, Bucks County.

Flower shop assistant Seymour pines for co-worker, Audrey. During a total eclipse, he discovers an unusual plant he names Audrey II, which grows not only as an attraction for the sluggish business but also as an increasingly blood-thirsty plant in constant search for nourishment.

The cast includes Chris Egging as Seymour, Amanda Carol Pascale as Audrey, Jerry Bruckner as Mushnik, Benjamin Ruth as Orin Scrivello, DDS, Vince Rostkowski as Audrey II, Kirsten Almeida as Crystal, Brittany Baumeister as Chiffon, Jessie Dau as Ronnette, and Daniel Moyer as the Puppeteer/Character Roles.

Director is Will Windsor Erwin, with Melissa Gump as musical director and Kirsten Almeida as choreographer.

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The Wind Ensemble at Lehigh University, directed by David Diggs, will present "British and American Classics for Winds," a program including two premiere pieces commissioned by the Wind Ensemble from Martin Ellerby and Graham Jones, on Sunday at 3 p.m., in Baker Hall at the Zoellner Arts Center in Bethlehem.

According to Diggs, Ellerby's piece is "Symphony in Five Movements." Jones' work, "Lehigh," is a smaller piece, described as "a bright, happy composition that reflects the positive attitudes and experiences of students at Lehigh."

Ellerby, born in England, studied at the Royal College of Music. He has written in most forms including symphonies, concertos and a large scale "Requiem," and also test pieces for all the key brass band contests and much for concert band. Lt. Col. Graham Jones started his military career as a musician in the Royal Artillery Band. He was appointed as Bandmaster of 16/5 The Queens Royal Lancers, and made a Member of the British Empire for outstanding service to the Regiment. He was appointed Director of Music, Coldstream Guards, in 2001.

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"Downtown Easton Dino Day" will be held Saturday, with Erth's "Dinosaur Zoo Live" from Australia presenting two shows, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., at the State Theatre in Easton. In partnership with the Easton Main Street Initiative, show ticket coupons are available at participating downtown businesses leading up to the show. Special appearances by Baby Dino’s throughout the downtown start at 10 a.m.

"Dinosaur Zoo Live" is an experiential theater production which takes audiences on a prehistoric journey into a new dimension where they get to meet a menagerie of insects, mammals and dinosaurs that once roamed the planet, with large-scale, life-sized dinosaur puppets.

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SATORI presents "Chamber Music with Guitar" on Sunday at 3 p.m., at Congregation Keneseth Israel, 2227 Chew Street, Allentown. Nora Suggs is artistic director.

The program features Candice Mowbray on guitar, Nora Suggs on flute, Rebecca Brown and Mary Ogletree on violins, Agnes Maurer on viola, and Marie-Aline Cadieux on cello.

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