The Heidelberg Project
Buses full of Japanese tourists are a strange sight in this run-down neighborhood on Detroit’s east side, a part of the city better known for its crack houses than its tourist attractions — that is, until artist Tyree Guyton, who grew up on Heidelberg Street, began The Heidelberg Project (313/267-1622, www.heidelberg.org), a remarkable piece of inner-city environmental art.
As a child, Guyton lived here in poverty, neglected, abused, and harassed for a growing interest in art. Only his grandfather encouraged him. Despite the odds, Guyton went on to study at Detroit’s respected Center for Creative Studies (CCS), but he never forgot his roots.
His first work was Fun House, created in 1986 from an abandoned house next door to his grandfather’s duplex. He transformed the dilapidated frame structure with bright patches of color and covered it with old toys, dollhouses, picture frames, shoes, signs, and other urban cast-offs.
The Heidelberg Project grew to encompass most of Heidelberg Street between Mt. Elliott and Ellery (to get there from downtown, take Gratiot northeast to Mt. Elliot and turn right). It drew acclaim from newspapers and art journals as well as curators at the nearby Detroit Institute of Arts, but failed to win over neighbors and then-mayor Coleman Young, who regularly demolished Guyton’s work along with vacant houses. It takes pride in its reputation as Detroit’s most controversial art project.
Former mayor Dennis Archer was more enlightened, and though he didn’t openly encourage Guyton’s work, he didn’t discourage it either. Guyton’s grandfather, who served as an unofficial tour guide, died back in 1992. His neat duplex is now part of the project, known as the Dotty Wotty House and dedicated to the memory of his grandfather and of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Despite arson and vandalism, The Heidelberg Project has endured, and improvements are on the horizon, including a plan to transform the OJ House into the penny-covered House That Makes Sense. Admission is free if you visit on your own.
by Laura Martone from Moon Michigan, 3rd Edition, © Avalon Travel