Detroit’s Heidelberg Street Revisited

by Darwin Hall

Heidelberg Project

I awoke on a cold January morning intent on making my way over to Heidelberg street. This trip to the eastside of Detroit was something I planned to do for quite some time; it almost sounds as if I’m an out-of-towner; however, I am a Detroiter all the way.

I have lived in this city all of my life; growing up and attending school here and raising my family in Detroit part of my adult life, then migrating to the burbs for a different setting for my children and wife.

Editor’s note:  This is an original article I published a few years back.  I thought it would be great to republish this article, showing you pictures I took of the way Heidleberg street looked before fire destroyed much of the art.

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Update:  TIM BURKE is an artist who’s photos are also featured in this post.  His art installation is located on Heidelberg Street.  I made a mistake previously by labeling his works as part of the Heidelberg Project.  You can see more of Tim’s work at the Detroit Industrial Gallery.  Sorry, Tim!

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Fast forward to 2010. These last few days have been uncomfortably cold! Bone chilling cold, I think the temps have dipped into the low single digits; especially today, January 3rd.

But, I decided today will be the day to drive over to Heidelberg street. It’s cold, but the sun is out shining on this clear Sunday. I need to see what all the jibba-jabba is about.

I grabbed my camera and video then headed out before it got too late — with the sun setting around 4:30pm! As I was driving down Gratiot, looking for the correct street, I was thinking about how this great city has changed; some for the good and others for the bad, but, nevertheless, change. New buildings rising up from the ashes, old buildings crumbling into further decay. The essence of large city life.

Two Colorful Houses - Heidelberg ProjectThese homes in this particular part of the city are full of character. Old Victorians with a flair of old world charm.

These are large homes, with beautiful corbels and woodwork, a testament to another era when life in Detroit was truly bustling and productive.

Now, in this particular area, all that is left is boarded up, neglected structures absent of life. Some are burned beyond repair, others just need a good paint job. People still live here, so I must be respectful of that fact.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I look up. Heidelberg jumped off the street sign and into my eyes! This must be the street. But, I don’t see any colors I would associate with these great artists and their artwork; which is what I came for.

So I’m driving slowly trying to access where I am, then all of a sudden, I see these doors stacked up in the distance in a way that screamed of focused placement. This must be it. The entrance to The Heidelberg Project.

This section of the neighborhood is truly transformed.  However, as I’m driving and looking at everything, the word clusterf*** comes to mind.  How can this stuff be considered art?

There are piles of shoes over there, stuffed animals hanging nearby, polkadots painted on the thoroughfare, bikes shrewn from trees, shopping carts and shoes in the trees, and did I say huge, colorful polkadots everywhere?

I grabbed the camera off the front seat and started snapping pictures.  Click-flash-click.  What is that I see? Are those bloody dolls’ heads with barbed wire strung around? Is that vodka bottles arranged around stuff — as art? OMG! Is that a huge mouse standing bravely on top of that house over there? What about those crosses on the sidewalk? What does it all mean? I’ve got to get outta this car and get a BETTER look at this “art” in the midst of urbanized sprawl.

As I walked along Heidelberg street, it hit me like a fat lady in church. THIS my friends, is art. What makes it art? One sentence. In the midst of seemingly chaos, what Tyree Guyton has done is bring awareness — telling and teaching us messages of hope, God, and the fundamentals of creativity.

Why are these painted heads sitting on the scale on top of each other in a way that you or I wouldn’t think of. We as society are too busy trying to make things perfect and in order.

Here, there is an order to the madness; however, you must find it. Seek it out. Look at the art and you will find the true order of the artist. If you search for it.

There are so many things I found different and exciting when I transfered the pictures to my computer. New things I didn’t pick up on when walking through the Heidelberg Project. Just the mere fact of when I first viewed those pictures turned magical to me. Maybe the frame or whatever but when I viewed them, I declared, this is beautiful. This is art.

So, as the sun began to set, and my hands were freezing like only Michigan weather can do, I drove home with the thought of being blown away by this guy’s art. Tyree Guyton is truly an artist who used what he had — everyday items and such, to convey the message he wants us to abide by. The message? I’m not sure, but art is truly in the eyes of the beholder, and it is up to you to take from it what you want. Cheers.

Door Sculpture - Heidelberg Project

Yellow Face - Heidelberg Project

^ Copyright © TIM BURKE ^

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Green Face - Heidelberg Project

More of my photos:  Detroit’s Heidelberg Project & Tim Burke’s Detroit Industrial Gallery

On the web:  

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