Using Urban Blight to Create Art: Detroit’s Heidelberg Project

Let’s be honest, Detroit has been in decline for a long time. Roughly 20% of its houses are vacant. That’s what I like about Detroit, the visibility of the working class that used to populate it, the grit. At the same time, it would not be Detroit without the soul and bristle of the people that live there. Just as Rome must fall, Detroit must eventually hit the bottom and begin climbing back to the ranks of respected cities one day. It seems that the natural process to respectability, according to both the masses and the media, will be through art. Many years ahead of that curve is the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor multiple block art installation. The Heidelberg Project is now in it’s 26th year in Detroit’s East Side, standing out against its competitors. It is so much more than some stuff haphazardly grouped next to graffiti covered abandoned houses, the items you see in the pictures below are all reclaimed items found in Detroit. The Heidelberg Project is a major force in the local art community hosting programs for children and adults alike, literally making itself a must-see tourist destination in the process. While I was there, multiple families milled around discussing the art on a weekday afternoon! I am certainly no expert on art or even qualified to make judgments on it, but the value I find in what I saw is that it is pulled from the community and literally represents the community, while being thought provoking to those who may not know Detroit intimately.

While admiring the houses of the Heidelberg Project, a man in a large carpenter’s van stopped and asked us what we thought, “Its really cool, who did all this?” we said. With his arm on the drivers window, he squinted into the sun and said “I did” before continuing his conversation with the woman weeding her garden on the sidewalk nearby. Tyree Guyton is an internationally renowned artist and world traveler who is down to earth enough to bypass a very clear opportunity to talk about himself with some camera ready tourists and stroke his own ego in favor of having an everyday conversation with his neighbor. After reading press from his website, I would dare to say that this is an embodiment of him, Mr. Guyton is most interested in participating in his community than trying to gain something from it.

In the spirit of disclosure, I want to be honest: I am not sure I fully understand the depth of some of the art, maybe most of it. But the picture of the sunken car that is led by a bike emerging I can confidently point to the decimated auto industry which used to be such a Motor City stronghold. My favorite photo (below) is of the auto mobile that uses syringes as part of the auto body; it was so bold because the red coiling of the auto body also could be veins within the body, calling to mind the rampant drug problems in Detroit. What is your favorite photo?

Above is the Detroit Industrial Gallery

3 thoughts on “Using Urban Blight to Create Art: Detroit’s Heidelberg Project”

  1. The oil drum arrangement and the bike emerging from the sunken automobile are my favorite. The first one reminds me of a steampunk city periscoping out above ground and if followed deep under leads to a new world under the surface.
    The Sunken car and emerging bike catch on an ideal of mine. As an on and off bike commuter it is easy to see why it’s message would be profound.
    And the syringes and blood vessels is very profound and haunting.
    This really is some amazing stuff. Thanks for sharing it.

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