The Heidelberg Project

Detroit is known as a hard, industrial city where living is not as comfortable as in many other places within the United States. Poverty has hit the city hard and its citizens have found ways to cope with such situation.

Yosef Meystel, the from Aperion Care, says that we cannot generalize and say that the city is in total poverty, but we can safely say that you can tell that the city is going through hard times and that it has been going on for quite a time now.

In Detroit, specifically in Heidelberg street, a project was born in order to give the community a way to make their lives and the lives around them better through art.  Now, after more than 30 years, the project is more alive and giving all they can to the community. It is the Heidelberg Project and let’s take a look at their story and how they came to be.


Image courtesy of Donna Martin at

The Heidelberg Project is a project where the community is inspired to appreciate and use artistic expression as a way of coping with life or as a way of expressing feelings or give a statement; the idea of this is to enrich and improve the community  by giving them a way to express themselves and relate to the urban environment around them.  The ultimate goal is to rebuild communities around art and give them the resources they need to live in an economically viable life that welcomes everyone.

So what do they exactly do? The Heidelberg Project is a full outdoor art project. What artist do is take elements from the streets of Detroit and convert them into art pieces. They use houses or abandoned lots to express their art. The street serves as a canvas where they tell a story or have a protest towards current issues that are affecting the community and the world society as a whole. The Heidelberg Project is also a way of seeing how many communities in Detroit have been forgotten into poverty. Some people view this type of art as junk, others as art, others as a story and many others as a protest. The real meaning is for the viewer to decide.

This whole crazy idea had a beginning. It started with the brainchild of native Detroit artist, Tyree Guyton. In the year 1986,  there was an ongoing poverty issue that left Detroit and many of its neighborhoods in total decay and shame. The Heidelberg Project is an answer to that. It is a response to how the communities were falling apart and how it could now be seen even in the infrastructure of the city.  

Tyree Guyton and his grandfather, Sam Mackey started this movement by simply changing guns and drugs for paintbrush and art.  When artist Tyree Guyton went back to his hometown and his street, Heidelberg street, he saw that things had changed for the worse, with drugs everywhere and crimes being committed in daylight. His grandfather told him that they had to find a solution through art.

It started very simple. The children, Guyton and Grandpa started to go to vacant houses and cleaning them and from all the garbage and debris the collected they created an art piece and transformed the whole place into a huge art environment. After some time the artist gave life to many vacant lots and they became  “lots of art” and all the forgotten houses became “gigantic art sculptures.” Guyton included the entire house surrounding into his art piece and called the work the Heidelberg Project. His vision was to transform a  community that was once a diverse, working class and became a violent, racist community with big poverty, despair and abandonment issues.


Image courtesy of Donna Martin at

It was not easy and he encountered a lot of resistance. Guyton systematically re-arranged all the street by including all the objects seen in the street, whether it was nature or debris or even the people or a tree. The first 18 years it was met with controversy and even violent resistance but Guyton understood this and called it a pill that was not easy to swallow that would come with its pro and cons.

After many years the pill had its effect. People who never knew about the Detroit Institute of Arts or the Detroit Symphony Orchestra started to go and visit those places and participate in HP programs, festivals, and forums. The community benefited with some modest jobs and an outdoor space where people could get together and express their feeling, play, create and interact with people from around the world.

The HP site is a sanctuary now for artists visiting Detroit and after 30 years of rebuilding and taking the human spirit from the ground and making amazing pieces of art, this can now be seen as a successful community program.

Be sure to also read this post about NAVS: a charity that is working towards a better and more humane science