Detroit: Is that you, friend? [Part II, Heidelberg Project]

Has the Heidelberg Project become a parody of itself?

If Detroit has any tourist destinations, Heidelberg is one. What began as an attempt to address the socio-geographic reality of Detroit through artistic means has since become a cultural commodity. In 1986 Tyree Guyton chose to comment on the ever increasing racial segregation, abandonment, and poverty that characterized his street (Heidelberg) for over 18 years.

By 1988, the project began receiving positive national media recognition. Attention was accentuated when then mayor of Detroit, Coleman Young, tried to tear it down. Although the project’s cultural meaning is grounded in place, Detroit, Heidelberg as a cultural ideology is exportable. Pieces of Heidelberg reside in Ecuador and Europe. Guyton has appeared on the Oprah show and is on the list of Who’s Who in Black America. There is now an Executive Director to oversee the project.

Heidelberg has become something much larger than just an abandoned street in downtown Detroit. Just as we mourn our favorite underground bands  that make the cover of Vice magazine, many in Detroit  complain that Heidelberg has lost its original meaning. There is a fee for inner city schools that wish to incorporate the project into the educational programming, one can buy Heidelberg merchandise, and is charged to download the map of the neighborhood surrounding the street. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a sell out. Heidelberg Project is now in its 23rd year and growing. In Detroit, that is a true accomplishment. I went back to Heidelberg for the first time in many years last Saturday and was truly surprised by the number of visitors. Who were these people? How did they know about the project?

Despite the controversy, Heidelberg is public art at its best. It is an attestation to ability for humans to use whatever means necessary to understand and come to terms with the world they live in. It is an understanding that comes from the psychology of the individual, the social structures of our culture, and the geography that surrounds us.

2 Responses to “Detroit: Is that you, friend? [Part II, Heidelberg Project]”
  1. Michelle says:

    Just to address one misconception – we don’t have the cafe/visitor’s center at this time (other than the information booth), but our ultimate goal right now is developing the Cultural Village and the House That Makes Sense, which will serve as the center of operations on-site and incorporate free educational programs for children.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and photos on the HP!

    • morganfrances says:

      Thanks for the correction Michelle, as well as the update on HP’s current goals. This information is much appreciated.

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