The Heidelberg Project


The Heidelberg Project, a public art initiative created by painter/sculptor Tyree Guyton, aims to revitalize a community in east Detroit through art. The eclectic project runs along Heidelberg Street and spans approximately two blocks. Brightly coloured houses and patterned sidewalks line the street, with installation and sculptures that fill the spaces in between. The project started in 1986, as Guyton noticed the decay of his neighbourhood and sought to bring people together. It has grown since then and has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors from each year. While this year marked three decades of the Heidelberg Project, it also came with the announcement that the project will soon be dismantled.


However, this is not the end of the Heidelberg Project. Instead, it represents the beginning of the project’s next iteration. Guyton and others who have worked with the Heidelberg Project noticed the impact the project has had on the community. This project not only generated tourism and international attention, it also provided a sense of community and opportunity to the area. Although there have been obstacles along the way, including a string of fires that destroyed a number of houses and mounting opposition from City officials, the project continued to fight on and is now reinventing itself.


Heidelberg 3.0 will preserve the project’s main art house on Heidelberg Street and provide more volunteer and work opportunities. It will continue to draw attention to the importance of public art and provide creative outlets for people in the area. It will become “a place to gather, express creativity, cultivate talent and embrace the culture of the neighbourhood.”


I had the opportunity to visit the project earlier this year. The space felt surreal; a handful of vibrant houses lining the streets and reclaimed discarded objects filling vacant lots, vestiges of a different time. Although the harbingers of its dismantlement could be seen, there was an undeniable charm within the street. The Heidelberg Project brought a new light to this space. The project represents reinvention and community. An area that was once deemed unsafe to walk through during the day now sees hundreds of thousands of visitors. It has brought people together and has given people an opportunity to take back their neighbourhood and revitalize it. And although it is sad to hear of the outdoor art project’s dismantlement, it is great to hear that the Heidelberg Project will continue to empower the neighbourhood and bring positive opportunities to the city of Detroit.


Photo credits: Images 1-3 by Ernestine Aying; image 4 by Warren Wilansky (via Flickr CC)

Ernestine Aying is a Bachelor of Design graduate from OCAD University. Having studied Environmental Design, she was able to delve into the world of urban design, architecture and interior design. Her passion lies in the impact that our built environment can have on people physically, mentally and emotionally. 

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