Friday, September 11, 2009

The Heidelberg Project: A Street of Dreams

The Heidelberg Project was created in 1986 by artist Tyree Guyton and his grandfather Sam Mackey as an outdoor art environment on Detroit's McDougall-Hunt neighborhood. The Heidelberg Project is, in part, a political protest, as Tyree Guyton's childhood neighborhood began to deteriorate after the 1967 riots.

At first, the project consisted of his painting a series of houses on Detroit's Heidelberg Street with bright dots of many colors, and attaching salvaged items to the houses. It was a constantly evolving work that transformed a hard-core inner-city neighborhood where people were afraid to walk, even in daytime, into one in which neighbors took pride and where visitors were many and welcomed. Tyree Guyton worked on The Heidelberg Project every day with the children on the block.

The effect of the Heidelberg Project is displayed through the development of Heidelberg Street. At the other end of the street, there are crumbling houses with lawns covered with waist-high weeds, rubble and rubbish, with no people in sight. Nevertheless, the Heidelberg Project attracts nearly 275,000 visitors a year, now considered a recognized destination for Detroit tourists.

On two occasions, the Heidelberg Project faced demolition by the City of Detroit. The 1999 demolition did, however, result in Guyton and his supporters' bringing a civil lawsuit against the City of Detroit. The Wayne County Circuit Court ruled that the Heidelberg Project was protected "political speech" under the 1st Amendment as an outdoor art environment. And now it’s been already 23 years that it exists.


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