Detroit, North America, United States

Photos: The Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

May 25, 2013

Detroit is unlike any other city I’ve ever visited. As much as I’d read about it and watched documentaries online, nothing prepared me to experience it firsthand. As you explore Detroit’s nooks and crannies, it’s impossible not to feel burdened with a heavy sense of hopelessness and sadness. There seem to be more abandoned homes than lived in ones. Likewise, with local businesses. There are six lane streets with only one or two cars driving on them at any given time. Stop lights are turned into four way stops as with such little traffic, it doesn’t make sense to keep them running. In some areas, the city doesn’t pay for the street lights to be on at night. The locals call it Zombie Land and they’re right, as Detroit is apocalyptic in nature.

Despite the urban blight, there are causes for hope. Community projects abound, be it urban farms, programs for at risk youth, outdoor art installations and an ever growing food movement. Creatives are flocking there in great numbers and in some ways, it reminded me of my beloved Berlin. This was the Detroit I came to see and the one I wanted to get to know.

One of these bright spots is the Heidelberg Project. A huge outdoor art installation that spans a couple of city blocks – it offers up quirky,  fun and whimsical pieces. Think houses adorned with hundreds of records or decorated from top-to-bottom with stuffed animals. Other pieces are more political such as the pink car sunk into the ground, signifying the death of the auto industry in a city that once was the ultimate symbol of the American dream.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Created in 1986 by Tyree Guyton and his grandfather, the duo sought to turn their poor, crime ridden, lower east side neighbourhood into a welcoming place where people could enjoy the art and locals could take pride in the unique project that has captured the attention worldwide. The artist even involved several children from the neighbourhood to develop his constantly evolving outdoor space.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project In Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

The Heidelberg Project has seen it’s fair share of controversy over the years. Twice city officials have demolished some of the homes after neighbours complained they were a haven for rats and posed fire and other safety hazards.

In fact just a few weeks ago one of the homes was set on fire by an arsonist destroying the Obstruction of Justice house. They’re slowly cleaning it up and have launched a Reclaiming the Canvas campaign to raise funds and build something new in it’s place. 

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

There are those who criticize the Heidelberg project, saying that they don’t live up to their mission “to change lives and communities” through their arts driven programming. They point out that the surrounding neighbourhood is still poor and the conditions have not improved. Yet the executive director Jenenne Whitfield referenced this in a Huffington post article about the recent Heidelberg fire:

Many of the young folks in our community experience a life that is at times inhumane. I remember a young man incarcerated at a prison where I volunteered saying to me, “There were eight houses on my block and five of them were crack houses. I grew up thinking that this was what life was all about.” While in jail, he discovered a talent for writing poetry. He is one of our redeemed and recently held his wedding on Heidelberg Street. Today, he is doing well. This potential was one of the primary reasons for the creation of the Heidelberg Project. Through this work, we expose young people to all facets of art and they have a chance to meet people from around the world. Armed with these tools, they can make better choices. We do our best, but the problem is obviously bigger than us.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.
Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

I for one have respect for the artist and the fact that he’s been able to turn his art into an internationally recognized symbol of hope and good. I admire that he’s been able to transform the lives of kids living in his community. He even manages to attract people to come and visit a poor neighbourhood of Detroit. Now that’s something!

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

The Heidelberg Project
3600 Heidelberg St  Detroit, MI 48207
(313) 974-6894
http://www.heidelberg.org/

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10 Comments

  • Reply Christian June 19, 2013 at 11:48 PM

    This looks awesome! Adding it to my list for when I finally make it to Detroit.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 20, 2013 at 7:01 AM

      Christian – It is pretty awesome! Nice to see someone doing something good for the city as well. 🙂

  • Reply Peter Parkorr June 21, 2013 at 6:32 PM

    Great pics and a great post Canada Girl! I will be back to read this more than once I feel…

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 21, 2013 at 10:59 PM

      Peter – thank you. I hope you get to visit and then come to Toronto dude!! 😀

  • Reply Rob June 22, 2013 at 5:26 AM

    Its quite an interesting idea. Anything that can help the locals in these areas of Detroit can’t be a bad thing.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 22, 2013 at 6:28 AM

      Rob – Agree! There’s actually so much more happening there and I can’t wait to write about it here. 🙂

  • Reply Kate Convissor June 28, 2013 at 8:09 PM

    I grew up in Detroit. Lived in the Cass Corridor for eight years. It’s interesting to see Detroit become so bad it’s cool again.

    Really interesting project. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 29, 2013 at 12:23 PM

      Kate – I think Detroit’s only going to get better. Seems like there’s so many cool things going on there!

  • Reply Sherry July 8, 2013 at 8:14 PM

    It’s interesting what people would consider “art.” But I like its positive reinforcement in community building. Anyone who can get others to visit a shanty part of town is genius! Good for you for visiting and writing about it.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard July 8, 2013 at 8:52 PM

      Sherry – Yes, art is a very personal and subjective thing. 🙂

      I’d prefer looking at something like this for example, than a whole bunch of old oil paintings as it would bore me to tears while I know others would find it absolutely captivating.

      The community good aspect is amazing, there needs to be more things like this happening in the world.

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