For almost 20 years, Michael J. LoFurno has tended to a community garden adjacent to Keith Haring’s “We The Youth” mural in Point Breeze.
“I guess you could say it’s been a labor of love,” LoFurno told PGN. “From time to time, I’ve received a few small grants. But in the intervening years, I’ve given my time and effort uncompensated.”
Haring was an iconic pop artist whose animated figures are recognized throughout the world.
He died in February 1990, at age 31, from complications of AIDS.
In 1987, Haring painted the mural on the side of a private home at the northeast corner of 22nd and Ellsworth streets, in collaboration with numerous inner-city youth.
The mural was part of a citywide celebration of the 200th anniversary of the United States Constitution.
But over the years, its vibrant colors have faded and parts of it have chipped away.
The city’s Mural Arts Program is expected to restore the mural soon.
Kate Jacobi, a spokesperson for MAP, confirmed that the mural will be restored, but she didn’t have a time frame.
LoFurno is the owner of Composite Inc., a local landscape architectural firm.
In March, Composite received a $5,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to restore the community garden.
“We’re very grateful that the Horticultural Society has taken an interest,” LoFurno said.
If he were alive, Haring would turn 55 on May 4.
“Keith Haring was an important artist of my generation,” said LoFurno, himself 55. “From what I’ve read, he lived every day of his 31 years to the fullest. I find that profoundly inspiring. I don’t want him to be forgotten. By rejuvenating the garden, we’re keeping his spirit alive.”
Over the years, LoFurno has planted hundreds of flowers in the garden.
“We’ve planted daffodils, hyacinths, day lilies and other flowers with bold colors to reflect the bold colors in the mural,” he said.
For the past two months, LoFurno has been busy weeding in the garden, removing debris and preparing its soil for new plants.
“We also installed a gravel path with a curved shape to mimic the dancing figures in the mural,” he said. “As soon as the mural is restored, we’ll do the plantings.”
LoFurno also helped select the garden’s furnishings.
“I picked out the picnic table,” he said. “The neighbors put in a bird bath. Benches will be installed as soon as work on the mural is done.”
LoFurno is especially pleased with the garden’s new perimeter fence.
“It’s lower and much more welcoming,” he noted. “You can see more of the mural. When you walk through the gate, you can appreciate the mural directly in front of you.”
LoFurno said the mural and garden should be a source of pride for the LGBT community.
“I hope that when people come to Philadelphia, they’ll go to Point Breeze and see that our influence isn’t just in the Gayborhood — but in other parts of the city as well,” he concluded. “I hope Keith Haring remains an inspiration for generations to come.”