PHILADELPHIA — The mural created 26 years ago by pop artist Keith Haring was badly discolored and cracked, but it still drew plenty of admirers to an otherwise nondescript corner in the heart of Philadelphia.
“It wasn’t very exciting,” homeowner Erica Bryant said of the artwork. “Chunks of the wall were missing out of the painting.”
Bryant and her husband should probably brace for more visitors to their Point Breeze neighborhood. Haring’s mural “We The Youth,” which occupies the side of a row house the couple bought last year, has gotten a makeover.
Painters with the city’s Mural Arts Program worked for months to restore the vibrant piece. Program leader Jane Golden and Keith Haring Foundation executive director Julia Gruen put on the finishing touches, brushing in the last few yellow strokes of the title.
The project also entailed replanting a small community garden below the three-story fresco.
“This mural is precious to the community, and it really means something, as does the garden,” Gruen said. “I couldn’t be more proud.”
Created with the help of children in 1987, “We The Youth” features many of Haring’s signature dancing figures in eye-poppingly bright colors. It’s the only collaborative public mural by the late artist that is still intact and at its original site.
Haring grew up in Kutztown, Pa., about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia, and then attended art school in Pittsburgh before moving to New York. There, he made a name for himself in the early 1980s by drawing white-chalk images on unused, black advertising panels in subway stations.
Golden recalled visiting Haring while he was working on the mural at 22nd and Ellsworth streets in Philadelphia. She and some friends had been painting elsewhere in the city with the Anti-Graffiti Network — which later became the Mural Arts Program — when they heard the artist was in town.
They sped over to the site, and Haring invited them up on the scaffolding, Golden said.
“I was just really struck by his incredible spirit, his graciousness, his kindness, his warmth, and the way he talked about how much he loved the public art-making process,” Golden said. “And that really resonated with us very deeply.”
Haring died of AIDS three years after completing “We The Youth.” He was 31.