The Heidelberg Project

Photo+Credit%3A+Tori+Beels
Back to Article
Back to Article

The Heidelberg Project

Photo Credit: Tori Beels

Photo Credit: Tori Beels

Photo Credit: Tori Beels

Photo Credit: Tori Beels

Tori Beels, Business Manager

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






In 1964, when Tyree Guyton was just nine, he was gifted a paintbrush from his grandfather, Sam Mackey, that would change his life forever. From the moment the paintbrush hit his hands, Guyton’s passion for art grew. Guyton exclaimed, “It was like my hand was on fire.”

At the age of 31, Guyton returned to his childhood home in Downtown Detroit only to find it in shambles. Heidelberg Street was riddled with drugs and poverty. Due to the loss of family to the monstrosities on the streets, Guyton was pained by the sight of his neighborhood. Filled with anger, Guyton was looking to avenge the place he once called home. With the help of Mackey, Guyton took to the streets with a broom and a paintbrush in hand ready to take on the restoration of Heidelberg Street. Guyton began to cure his community of the racism, abandonment, violence and despair that the streets of Detroit caused. This was just the beginning of The Heidelberg Project.

Guyton and the local children began by cleaning the empty lots. All of the forgotten items left behind by their previous owners were revamped and began to transform Heidelberg Street into a massive artistic environment. The abandoned homes became art sculptures. From this moment on, the goal of the Heidelberg Project was to inspire youth and adults all around the world to appreciate and use their own artistic expression to better their community.

As the Heidelberg Project continued to grow, so did the controversy and anger people were feeling. In 1991 and 1999 the city of Detroit bulldozed elements of the Project. That same year, Tyree was gifted artist of the year by the state of Michigan. But that is not where the destruction stopped. in 2013 and 2014, a series of 12 arson attacks, destroying the OJ House, the House of Soul, the War Room, the Penny House, the Clock House, and the Party Animal House leaving only the Dotty Wotty (aka the polka dot house) and the Number house.

After 30 years of the project, the Heidelberg Project is currently one of the most visited cultural sites in Detroit with 270,000 visitors each year from the US and over 140 countries around the globe. The project has also helped to contribute over 7 million dollars to the Wayne County area in 2017.

In the future, Guyton and the Project seek to expand their community and educational programs. The Heidelberg Arts Leadership Academy (HALA) is a academic program attempting to inspire students through art, culture, and STEM programs.

There are many symbolistic items around the Project. As you walk down Heidelberg Street, you will notice all the clocks. Clocks painted on wood and hung on poles appear all around. These clocks stand for a time of reflection. The clocks reflect the idea of Plato, “Time is a moving image of reality.” The goal of the clocks is to make people reflect and think about what reality really is for them.

Another symbolistic item you can find at the project is shoes. In 2011, Guyton painted and placed 10,000 shoes throughout the street to highlight on the issue of homelessness plaguing the city of Detroit. The shoes represent the souls of the people that once wore the shoes. Every sole tells a story.

Finally, the last piece of symbolism lurking down Heidelberg Street is the polka dot. The various polka dots represent the circle of life and the idea that everything is connected. The polka dot also represents the people around the world. Everyone is so different, but also the same; just like a circle.

Downtown Detroit is known for many things. The Tigers, the Lions, the Red Wings, and the auto industry; but, not many know about the incredibly Heidelberg Project.

Photo Credit: Tori Beels

Photo Credit: Tori Beels

 

This is the Number House. The family who lived in the number house asked Guyton to paint numbers on their home to teach the young neighborhood children how to count. The numbers were fitting as Thelma Woods, the woman who used to live in this house, loved to play the lottery. When Woods passed away, her children donated the house to the project for all to see. Currently, the house is used as the HQ for the Project and the gift shop.

 

Photo Credit: Tori Beels

Photo Credit: Tori Beels

 

This is The People’s House, the most famous house on the street. Guyton grew up in this house with his nine siblings, his mother, and his grandfather. The People’s House has been in Guyton’s family since 1947. Currently, Guyton’s siblings Melody and Shawn live there.

 

Photo Credit: Tori Beels

Photo Credit: Tori Beels

 

This is The Shrine. The shrine is the remanence of what was formerly known as the OJ House. After the city of Detroit attempted to destroy it in 1992 and 1999, the OJ House was the first victim to the arson attacks. In order to reclaim the fallen OJ House, Guyton created the shrine in memory of the OJ House.

 

Photo Credit: Tori Beels

Photo Credit: Tori Beels

 

This is the Code Pink Hummer. One month after the last Hummer rolled off the assembly line, a woman’s peace group called CODE-PINK teamed with Guyton to give Hummer’s a proper burial. The hummer was painted pink to symbolize the peacefulness CODE-PINK preaches. The Hummer now is overgrown with plants and flowers, representing that we should try to go green and maybe ride a bike rather than a car.