How Austin artist Daniel Johnston contributed to mental health awareness

The creator of “Jeremiah the Innocent” has left a legacy of kindness and empathy in the Capital City.

Daniel Johnston stands on a stage, holding an instrument and singing at a microphone.

Daniel Johnston’s music has been covered by Beck, Wilco, The Flaming Lips, and countless other artists.

Photo by Mike Mantin from Swansea, UK, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Listen up — we’re about to tell you the story of an artist.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so we’re sharing the history of an Austinite who has inspired countless people to check in on their loved ones with a quick, “Hi, how are you?

The artist

Daniel Johnston wasn’t an Austinite by birth, but he settled in ATX in the 1980s after visiting the city as part of a traveling carnival. He liked Bat City so much, he stayed.

His lo-fi, homemade-sounding music grew a strong cult following. His most famous song, “True Love Will Find You in the End,” was eventually covered by stars like Beck and Wilco.

Notably, Kurt Cobain was a big fan of Daniel’s, praising him in interviews and wearing a t-shirt of Daniel’s “Jeremiah the Innocent” in 1992.

Jeremiah was just one of many cartoon-like characters invented by Daniel, who was also a talented visual artist and was honored by a Contemporary Austin exhibit last year.

Throughout his life, Daniel struggled with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He shared his lived experiences, finding an outlet in his art until he died of natural causes in 2019.

The iconic Hi, How Are You mural off of Guadalupe Stree.

Johnston’s iconic mural of Jeremiah the Innocent has remained off of Guadalupe Street since 1993.

Photo by ATXtoday

The legacy

Daniel is frequently remembered for his creation of Jeremiah the Innocent, a frog-like creature who stars in one of Austin’s most well-known murals alongside the words “Hi, How Are You.” Despite the recent demolition of the building he’s housed on, Jeremiah has been preserved.

Daniel and Jeremiah also inspired the creation of the Hi, How Are You Project, a local nonprofit dedicated to removing the stigma around mental health. The group offers training and hosts the annual Hi How Are You Day concert on Daniel’s birthday.

Currently, the nonprofit is running the Happy Habit-a-Thon, a month-long virtual event promoting “Happy Habits” like being grateful and practicing kindness. Last year, thousands of people across six continents and 30 countries participated.

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