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As a follow-up to our recent trip to research + document Detroit for our upcoming Site Specific – Detroit MI, I wanted to share what we learned about The Heidelberg Project. The photographs we took are not included in our book + are intended for educational purposes/non-commercial use only. As stated in my initial “Hearts Detroit” post, The Heidelberg Project is located in a community that, per the 2005 census, is considered the most economically depressed neighborhood in the country. I understand that most people visiting a city wouldn’t want to go to the most devastated part of that city – but we strongly urge you to go…it’s the Stonehenge of the Midwest.
We drove a short distance from the center of the city heading northeast on Gratiot Avenue - into an area that became more + more isolated + blighted. Some stores were open, others shuddered - there were many buildings + homes that were either abandoned or had fallen apart. We had no idea what to expect. We found Heidelberg Street – which is where the project is located + drove around to “assess” the area. Curiosity + amazement took over what turned out to be completely unfounded fear. The first thing we heard from Tyree Guyton was “Welcome” + to "please be respectful of the neighbors” that live among the art installation that is ultimately a neighborhood.
The scale of the project is quite impressive. The heart + ambition is not only inspiring, but for lack of a better word - is spiritual. Celebrating its 25th year, call it “outsider art”, “activist art” or the “Ghetto Guggenheim” – The Heidelberg Project works on many levels: artistic, social, environmental, political + economic. The project is an “art as catalyst” approach to addressing social issues such as police abuse, lack of affordable housing, urban renewal projects, economic inequality + rapid demographic changes. The artist, Tyree Guyton, was 12 years old when the 1967 riots devastated Detroit + the city burned before his eyes. This riot, as with many riots occurring across the country in the 1960’s, was the beginning of “white flight” from the city to the suburbs. Once thriving neighborhoods became abandoned, segregated urban ghettos characterized by poverty, neglect + despair. Beginning in 1986, Guyton began using found objects to make art from the very blight + decay that surrounded him. As an artist, this became his way of protesting the poverty + neglect his community was experiencing. Guyton turned trash into a national treasure by creating single art pieces that eventually developed into blocks of art installations. The amount of work + passion behind Guyton’s art is inspiring on a level that you have to experience for yourself. Go!
We look forward to visiting the Heidelberg Project again as it continues to grow in its vision + expand the reconstruction of the neighborhood. Through the exploration of ecological + social sustainability, social empowerment through art, urban design + redevelopment - there are many lessons to learn from The Heidelberg Project. The story of Detroit is not unique compared to other post-industrial “shrinking cities.” What is unique is that this project + the city are asking the difficult questions + finding innovative solutions to create a sustainable city that supports its entire population.
For more information - please visit The Heidelberg Project's website: http://www.heidelberg.org/
This is the kind of work that makes us believe that art (+ design) can save the world…or at least help make it better!