As a fairly new resident to the Detroit area, I needed to get out and experience what Detroit has to offer during the winter. My roommate, who had grown up in Metro Detroit, was shocked to hear that I was unfamiliar with The Heidelberg Project. After a brief explanation of what it consisted of, I was convinced that I needed to spend my Saturday afternoon there.
About the Heidelberg Project in Detroit
Today, a lot of Detroit neighborhoods are packed with gloomy decaying, and sometimes abandoned houses, almost as if a bomb went off or the city was struck by a horrific natural disaster. Then you come across a breath of fresh air at the corner of Mount Elliot and Heidelberg Street on Detroit’s east side. Some describe it as entering into a fantasy land. The homes, trees, and sidewalks are all utilized to create a funky outdoor environment. The city’s misfortune becomes an artist’s canvas.
3600 Heidelberg Street, in downtown Detroit, is a scene unlike any that I have ever witnessed. Abandoned homes covered in various forms of eccentric art line the blocks surrounding the area. Each home is covered in so much detail that I could have spent hours examining each one and cannot wait to go back. Palpable messages are shouted from these homes, yet with just a step closer, hidden memorandums sneak out and surprise you. Each exhibit offers something completely unique and is entirely encompassing.
Most of the art displayed comes from recycled pieces of local Detroit goods, such as stuffed animals, couches, and street signs. The works of art are designed to tell a story regarding specific issues in Detroit’s society. The Heidelberg Project was purposefully positioned in an impoverished area and is meant to shed light on the lack of resources in that neighborhood. Though it is meant for enjoyment, visitors are cautioned to be aware of their surroundings and to not bring valuables while visiting.
The Heidelberg Project has been using art to promote conversation, improve the community, provide hope and inspiration. Detroit native and artist Tyree Guyton, created the Heidelberg Project with his grandfather, Sam Mackey in 1986. Guyton grew up in Detroit and was devastated when he came to visit in 1986 and saw that it had taken a turn for the worse due to racism, drugs, violence, and poverty.
The exhibit started off as a small entity but soon blossomed into so much more. No one knew quite how big the effect of the project would have on the city. Currently, 275,000 people visit the street annually and the number of visitors each year keeps increasing. It is internationally known, and people from more than 140 different countries have toured the streets.
Why the Heidelberg Project was Started
His hope was to inspire children in the community through his art and desire to create change. In addition to providing a place for locals and tourists to enjoy, Guyton, staff members, and volunteers hold workshops and other art education programs. Many children in the surrounding neighborhoods are forced to walk to school and see nothing but abandoned homes and crime. Being able to walk through the community that the Heidelberg Project has constructed gives children an opportunity to see what their neighborhoods have the potential to become.
The ACE2 (Art, Community, and Environmental Education) Project was started to supplement the art education programs that the Detroit Public School system was unable to support. The ACE2 project also offers school presentations with workshops, a field trip to the Heidelberg Project, and a tour of Tyree Guyton’s studio. An educator’s kit also comes complimentary with the ACE2 project, which includes creative lesson plans and suggestions for end-of-semester projects.
What’s at the Heidelberg Project?
On a section of Heidelberg Street in Detroit, there are some houses and some lots full of everything from dolls to old toys and sneakers to household appliances, which are the result of artist Tyree Guyton’s handiwork.
The Heidelberg Project puts on events year-round for everyone to enjoy. These include the Detroit Design Festival, the Detroit Arts Immersion, and the Medley of Unorganized Beauty. A full list of events is available on their website so spectators can plan their visits accordingly. There are many ways to get involved with the Heidelberg Project. There are opportunities for volunteers, employees, and ways to donate. However, the best way to become involved is to spread the word of the Heidelberg Project and support art programs in every community.
The Heidelberg Project in Detroit Beautifies Trash
Guyton’s concept is to not only take nothing and create it into something very beautiful and whimsical, but also to ultimately get people to the point where they are interested about art. Behind the display of paintings, sculptures, installation and design, all showcases are an array of colors, form, and remarkable symbolism.
The city of Detroit has bulldozed parts of this project on two different occasions due to controversy. Once in 1991 and again in 1999. However, the decision was reversed and the site still lives on. One of the houses that remains on Heidelberg Street is “Dotty Wotty,” where the polka dots on the house represent all different races, colors, and sizes—symbolizing diversity and harmony.
Guyton beautifies a multitude of objects; things that some people may think are trash. What society believes is obsolete and throws away, he recycles and produces into raw art. A lot of the objects were salvaged from the buildings and streets of Detroit.
Street Art in Detroit
The Heidelberg Project takes the term “street art” to another level with over two blocks of the street overflowing with odds and ends. Creating something unique can change the world, and that is what the whole project is about. Guyton often includes the kids and people of the neighborhood to help expose and educate them to the art world. With the whole community involved in the project, it inspires them to do better and gives them an outlet to use their creativity. Guyton, who lost family members to the streets, started on the road of hope by picking up a paintbrush instead of a weapon.
The Heidelberg Project is helping Detroit reinvent itself in hopes of becoming a safe, productive, and colorful city once again. Visiting Heidelberg Street is free for all.
What is happening on Heidelberg Street isn’t just “stuff” scattered, though. The Project’s mission is to “inspire people to appreciate and use artistic expression to enrich their lives and to improve the social and economic health of the greater community.” Beyond a street to explore, the Project stays true to its mission by offering group tours, lectures, art workshops, and various other events to engage the community.
Also, one of the houses, the Number House, is an art experience not only on the street but inside as well. The former home now houses a gift shop that includes handmade items as well as galleries that showcase local artists and photographers.
More Heidelberg Project Photos
Go & Explore the Heidelberg Project Detroit MI
Don’t just take my word for it, though… check it out for yourself! You may just see a toilet or two, a jet ski, or a few cribs that are now repurposed into a larger community initiative set on bringing people together. Make a day of it and grab your camera, then head to 3600 Heidelberg Street in Detroit.
Seriously, don’t go off of what I’ve seen on my visit because chances are when you get there the constantly evolving installment will be different again.
Have you ever visited the Heidelberg Project? What’s the quirkiest thing you saw? Let us know in the comments!
article contributed by Jennifer Hamilton, Amber Ainsworth, and Danielle Turcotte