The Heidelberg Project is an outdoor art project in the McDougall-Hunt neighbourhood on Detroit’s east side. It sits just north of the city’s historically African-American Black Bottom area and has certainly had its share of trouble in its 36 year existence. Instalments have been destroyed by city-sponsored bulldozing and homes destroyed in a string of arson fires. Still, it has endured and is now one of the most visited cultural sites in Detroit, with guests from more than 140 countries. In fact, prior to covid, this was the third most visited tourist site in Detroit.
I am not sure if that is still the case but I think it’s vital to understand the city and it’s struggle to lift itself up. I have so much admiration for the people of Detroit. When it became clear that help was not on the way, they took matters into their own hands. Although the city has slowly come back to life, this is a reminder that there is still much work left to be done.
Tyree Guyton was born and raised in the Polka Dot house on Heidelberg Street in Detroit. After a lifetime of Military service, working at Ford and then, as a firefighter, he never lost his passion for making art. Entering and then dropping out of art school as an adult, he chose to chart his own path with the creation of the Heidelberg Project. Guyton also receives commissions from around the world and his art is exhibited internationally, earning him a multitude of awards and fellowships. His entire life is committed to social change through art.
This was my first time visiting since the before times. Above are some photos from my first visit in 2015 and most of these things are no longer there, the house is no longer as vibrant as Guyton slowly disassembles the installation. I also mention it in a 2018 story about visiting Detroit
He has spent more than thirty years making his neighbourhood a living art installation. He highlights the social inequities and the failure of government to help the poorest in the city of Detroit. To me, this place drives home the spirit and resilience of the city and the people who live there. Discarded things create something meaningful, powerful and beautiful, highlighting the neglect and poverty of the area. The welcome sign says it all : ‘SAYING, SEEING AND FEELING ALL THINGS.’
Clocks and time are important themes and are featured throughout the project. Tyree Guyton, when asked about their significance:
“The time is now,” he said. “This is my purpose. I believe in changing what you can change and leaving the rest to God. Life is bigger than us.”
Thanks to a growing number of sponsors, the Project now offers two annual residencies – an artist in residence as well a a curator in residence. More importantly, they also have HALA (The Heidelberg Arts Leadership Academy) which mentors and empowers youth between grades 4 and 12. They offer a wide variety of programs to inspire and stimulate local youth. There is everything from a 2 week summer arts camp to courses on podcasting, art through hip hop and professional paid internships.
Sadly, since 2020, five of the twelve partner schools have closed but HALA continues to service 5 school partners. Hopefully, as life slowly returns to normal, they will regain lost ground.
A burnt out basement now serves as a sort of doll museum, equal parts creepy and beautiful.
How To See It
You can just go there yourself, park and walk around, exploring this outdoor art experience on your own. Alternatively, you can book a private tour with a docent who will be able to really help you understand what you are seeing. They will explain Guyton’s philosophy as they guide you through the main installations. It is recommended to either drive yourself or take a taxi, so keep that in mind.
A third alternative is to download the Heidelberg Project app . For over 32 years, HP serves as a community organization, improving the lives of people and neighbourhoods through art. The app will guide you through the site and is the first step in a digital transformation that is part of the Heidelberg Project’s new vision, Heidelberg 3.0. I think the new vision has been slowed by the pandemic but I am exited to see the end result.
Always remember that this is also a neighbourhood, residents live here so don’t photo graph them, be respectful and stick to the sidewalks and the installation areas. You can visit every day between 8am and 7pm.
$100 Small Group Tour: a 30-minute tour of the Heidelberg Project site with a HP docent ***Limited to 10 people or less***
$300 Large Group Tour: a 45-minute tour of the Heidelberg Project site with a HP docent ***Limited to 11-25 people***
For additional information about guided tour options, please reach out to us via email at email@example.com or by phone at (313) 458-8414.
To book tickets
Detroit, MI 48207