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Heidelberg Project - Detroit, Michigan

3600 Heidelberg Street, Detroit, MI

Heidelberg Project

The Heidelberg Project was started in 1986 by Tyree Guyton. After returning home to Detroit from the army, Guyton was struck by the the desperate state of his neighborhood. Like many predominantly black neighborhoods in the 1980s, the area was struggling with crime and drug problems, disinvestment since the riots of 1967, and redlining of city services which might have helped these areas. Houses stood abandoned and unremoved trash piled up on the street, while roaming street gangs made neighbors afraid to leave their houses.

In 1986 Guyton and his grandfather Sam Mackey began collecting items from the street and placing them on or around several abandoned houses on Heidelberg Street, then painted them with polka dots. The project was controversial from the start. Is it art? Or a pile of junk? Is it a protest against the city's abandonment of the neighborhood? Is it a fire hazard? The city finally began to take notice of the street, and decided the houses must come down. The mayor ordered demolition of three of the decorated houses in 1991. The artists continued the project, using other abandoned houses on the street. Again, in 1999, despite world-wide protests from fans of the project three other art houses were destroyed. Since then, the project has continued to decorate the dilapidated houses of Heidleberg street, and has evolved into a community arts and education organization.

Whatever their opinion about the decorated art houses, the project has helped people in the neighborhood to rediscover that their dysfunctional street and city was worth saving. Heidelberg Street has become a point of pride which attracts activity and attention to the area, making the neighborhood safer for all.

More info at the Heidelberg Project website.

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Copyright 2016 Matt Bergstrom