The Heidelberg Project (Our First Visit)




A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of bringing my little sister back to Michigan with me for a few days, marking the first time she's visited me in my new habitat. Carolyn, who recently graduated with a degree in Theatre Design, has always had an interest in (and knack for) art and the unusual. So, as I wracked my brain for places I could take her during her short stay, I remembered a place I'd seen countless photos of during this past year and had yet to visit--Detroit's Heidelberg Project.

Created in 1986 by Detroit artist Tyree Guyton, the Heidelberg Project is an homage to the past, present, and future of the Motor City and its culture. The "exhibit" is comprised of countless sculptures and recompositions, all nestled within a patch of abandoned lots on Detroit's East Side. Although located in a somewhat quiet, ghost town-like area, Heidelberg is visited by thousands of people each year who come to document and take in the magnitude of how some paint and trash can transform wreckage into hope for a new era.

Carolyn in her painty pants and shoes, looking right at home.
A house covered in numbers and a syringe that's taller than me--that is Heidelberg.
The Heidelberg Project is definitely something that looks as though it was pulled from a Roald Dahl book. In this little patch of urban Detroit, it's easy to feel completely separated from the outside world--which may, to some extent, be the point of the whimsical, unearthly tone conveyed by the whole place. Case in point: we drove around in two or three circles trying to find the street, passing burnt-down buildings and other neighborhood remnants along the way. When we finally found Heidelberg, however, all that was left behind. Painted sidewalks, polka dots on the street, stuffed animals stapled to trees with shopping cart garnishes--it was totally surreal, and a symbol of how Detroit's innovative spirit has not disappeared in the midst of hardship.

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Left: Colorful numbers make this old house more playful.
Right: Brad and me, walking down the "face-painted" sidewalks.

There's just so much junk on TV these days.
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Left: A teepee(?) made of doors. Right: Carolyn at the "Dotty Wotty" house.

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Tree art.

We may have trouble getting a cab here.
The "Obstruction of Justice (OJ)" House
Looks like the house is obstructed, too. My own, personal term for this one was "The Hoarders House."
Despite being fussed at by a lady on her front porch (Brad accidentally walked on part of her front yard on the way to our car), the outing was completely worth the drive. I'd actually love to go back for a tour when I get the time one day, if for no other reason than to learn more about the message behind the artwork. Fortunately, the Heidelberg Project hosts a variety of events and volunteer opportunities throughout the year to raise funds and awareness--which means lots of chances to make the most of this modern marvel.

Whaddaya think--trashy or inspiring? And what lengths would you go to in order to keep your own hometown's spirit from fading?