In a whole city of murals, one of Philly’s most significant works was just restored. The vibrant mural by street artist Keith Haring at the corner of 22nd and Ellsworth streets in Point Breeze was given facelift by the Mural Arts Program this summer.
Close watchers of this corner will recall that the house the mural is painted on had been flipped in recent years, and during recent renovations some feared the mural would be lost. Fortunately for Haring fans the new owners, Erica and Lucas Bryant love the mural.
“It always puts a smile on my face,” said Erica Bryant, who said the mural even influenced the colors inside their house.
The Bryants contacted the Keith Haring Foundation in New York after moving into the house in June 2012 and by summer’s end Mural Arts was on board to restore the mural with guidance and funding from the foundation.
We the Youth was originally painted in 1987 by Haring who was brought to Philly by the Brandywine Workshop to create a collaborative artwork with CityKids. Haring outlined the pop art dancing figures with thick black lines and kids helped paint them in. About 30 of Haring’s public murals remain around the world, but this is the only piece he created in collaboration that remains in its original location.
“The colors are as true as they’ll ever be without Keith being here and picking them,” said Mural Arts Program project manager Kate Jacobi. She said four or five coats of paint were used to help ensure that the colors stay vibrant and a coating will be applied to protect against fading. Because mural’s wall was so water damaged some areas of stucco had to be replaced and the mural entirely repainted. Other areas were simply restored.
“The foundation feels very, very strongly that we have a certain kind of responsibility to these works. Just as we maintain and preserve the artworks in our collection,” said Julia Gruen, Executive Director of The Keith Haring Foundation. “There is real meaning in trying to save these murals. Especially when the communities so clearly are connected to them and find something meaningful in them. If there is a way then let’s do what we can.”
The foundation gave $30,000 toward the restoration project.
“It’s regifting in the best sense of the word,” Gruen joked.
The mural overlooks a garden, owned by the Neighborhood Gardens Association (now Neighborhood Gardens Trust), which was relandscaped by designer Michael LoFurno. A shorter garden fence replaced the tall chain-link fence and the entrance was moved off of Ellsworth to 22nd Street. And LoFurno chose flowering plants that will bloom with bold pops of color that complement the colors of the mural.
“It’s a beautiful expression,” said neighbor Jean McNair who remembers helping out when the mural was originally painted in 1987. “I hope people will respect it,” she added now that the mural has been restored and the garden improved.
Attend a rededication party for We the Youth on Saturday, November 2 from 1-3pm with food trucks, music from King Britt, and a performance from CityKids Foundation.
Ashley Hahn is an independent writer with a background in historic preservation and city planning. She started Eyes on the Street for PlanPhilly in 2011 and was PlanPhilly's managing editor from 2015-2017. Ashley has lived in 12 zip codes that she can think of, including neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and New York. She is a Philadelphian by choice.