Rare Philly Mural Brought Back to Life

Pop artist Keith Haring's public artwork is restored.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A rare mural by the late pop artist Keith Haring at the corner of 22nd and Ellsworth Streets has gotten a makeover.

    Erica Bryant and her husband purchased the rowhome that dons the mural in 2012. At the time, the mural was in bad shape.

    "We didn't know who Keith Haring was, but we do now," said Bryant. "It's awesome living here. People are always taking pictures. It's kind of weird but you have to be ready for a picture any time."

    They've been on adventure since buying the home. They first reached out to the Keith Haring Foundation to learn more about the artist. Then, they were connected to the Mural Arts Program, which coordinated the reconstruction.

    The colorful work titled “We The Youth” covers the side of the rowhouse in Philadelphia's Point Breeze neighborhood. Created in 1987, it features many of Haring's signature dancing figures.

    The Mural Arts Program worked for two months straight to restore the piece. Officials say it's the only collaborative public mural by Haring that's still intact and at its original site in the United States.

    Wear and tear and lack of upkeep over the past 26 years resulted in damages to 60 percent of the stecco wall. 

    The project was restored by lead artist Kim Alsbrooks of Philadelphia. Her team of five artists used old photos and videos of the wall to reconstruct the iconic figures.

    "His (Haring's) themes have a lot to do with life and death and community. It reminds me of how we interact in society," said Jenn Procacci, of the restoration team. "You are so influenced by everyone around you. It's about humanity."

    A stay cat, affectionately named "Haring" by Procacci, roams the street's corner park adjacent to the mural.

    Mural Arts Program executive director Jane Golden remembers meeting Haring while working on the mural in 1987. She waved from the street and he invited her to climb up on the scaffolding. That talk stayed with Golden all these years. 

    "He was in love with art, the public process and had a generous spirit. To me, it represents a celebration of diversity. It's joyful. There's hope for the world," Golden said. 

    Haring drew the nonstop black lines, which became the mural's outline for its moving figures. A group of children from CityKids in New York drew inside the lines thanks to a partnership with the Brandywine Workshop. 

    The children drew things that meant something to them -- peace signs, a dragon and smiley faces. The color pallet for work includes the primary colors plus green, very consistent with Haring's style.

    Alan Edmunds brought CityKids into the project. Edmunds was the director of the Brandywine Workshop at the time of the mural was created and remains director today.

    "He was very much into trying to connect art with public purpose. I remember him being very easy going with the kids," said Edmunds.

    "He loved it. He was really engaged with that. He wasn't a big diva. He was a regular person." 

    The restoration project price tag was $40,000. A public dedication and party is planned for Saturday at the site.

    For neighbors of the mural, like Shawn Jenkins, they are able to walk by and "thoroughly enjoy the work of art." 

    Haring, a native of Kutztown, Pa., died of AIDS in 1990 at the age of 31. 

    "The mural was regifted in the best sense to the community. His goal was to do something for the community. This was not for the art world or a collection," said Julia Gruen, Haring's friend and director of the Keith Haring Foundation.

    "His memory lives on."


    Contact Sarah Glover at 610-668-5580, sarah.glover@nbcuni.com or follow @skyphoto on Twitter.

     


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