The Heidelberg ProjectTyree Guyton (1955)
About the Artist/Site
After studying art at Marygrove College and Wayne State University, Guyton worked as a firefighter and autoworker prior to doing his service in the U.S. Army. When he returned from his service around 1986, Tyree Guyton was astonished to see the deterioration of his neighborhood, the McDougall-Hunt district east of downtown Detroit. Along with the rest of Detroit, it had faced a severe downward evolution following the 1967 riots, and this historically African-American area received little attention from the municipal urban planners. To lift the spirits of the remaining residents—who lived in homes interspersed with burned-out empty lots—Guyton and his grandfather Sam Mackey began painting the exteriors of the houses with bright polka dots, affixing found objects and altering the spaces in a constantly-evolving process. A nonprofit corporation was eventually founded to oversee and promote Guyton’s work within the neighborhood; Guyton involved local children and older residents in the project and dreamed of creating the city’s first combination indoor/outdoor museum, to include spaces for artist residencies, workshops, theatre productions, and a community garden.
Despite the fact that the artworks began attracting visitors and supporters from all over the world to this formerly-blighted community, the City of Detroit targeted it for violations to its urban planning codes, and on two occasions, in 1991 and 1999, demolished several of the painted houses. However, Guyton and the local community rallied each time, and in 2011 the Heidelberg Project celebrated its 25th anniversary. In recent years, exhibitions, books, and magazine articles about Guyton’s works have been appearing in greater frequency, and Guyton has begun teaching at Wayne State University in the honors program.
According to their website, the “mission of the Heidelberg Project is to teach, educate, and develop an awareness of the arts in the community. The Project uses art as a catalyst to halt the decline of the East Side neighborhood by preserving its homes, discouraging crime, and offering new hope to its residents. The Heidelberg Project is…organized to promote a universal awareness for the visual arts. Through education, we strive to create a more beautiful and positive environment in which to work and live.” The outdoor works are easily visible from the street by the public.
Update: Following a string of arson attacks during 2014, a crowd-sourced fundraising drive spearheaded by the Fred M. and Barbara A. Erb Family Foundation and the Kresge Foundation raised $54,000 to purchase and install a comprehensive solar-powered security and surveillance system. Over 950 donors financially contributed to this campaign, which also received in-kind support from Nomax Technologies, LLC.
~Jo Farb Hernández, 2012
SPACES Archives Holdings
1 folder: clippings, images
Come Unto Me: The Faces of Tyree Guyton
"It was junk. He gave it meaning"
Map & Site Information
3600 Heidelberg St, 48207
Latitude/Longitude: 42.3586775 / -83.0208868