The 32-Year-Long Polka-Dotted Protest in Detroit, Michigan

The Heidelberg Project, Detroit, Michigan
The Heidelberg Project, Detroit, Michigan

The Heidelberg Project is a world-famous square block of street art in a neighborhood once scarred by drugs and crime on Detroit’s East Side. It was created by urban environmental artist Tyree Guyton, assisted by his wife and grandfather, in 1986, in his effort to draw people’s attention to the state of the city following the 1967 Detroit Riots.

After serving in the U.S. Army, Tyree Guyton came back to Heidelberg Street. “Bruised by the loss of three brothers to the streets” and seeing the neighborhood where he grew up “riddled with drugs and deepening poverty,” he decided to give an unconventional fight. Guyton began collecting discarded everyday objects salvaged from the streets of Detroit, making sculptures and painting old houses to transform a community that was characterized by poverty, racism, and violence into a living art gallery.

The Heidelberg Project, Detroit, Michigan
The Heidelberg Project, Detroit, Michigan

This Detroit neighborhood currently hosts random objects, toys, decorated sidewalks, rusting cars, old tv sets, and clocks. “The times painted on the clocks do not hold a particular meaning in reference to time but pose questions of: What time is it? What is your reality? What time is it for you in the world today?” the Heidelberg Project’s website reads. “This is a time for us to reflect where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going.”

The Heidelberg Project has not been without opposition from the City and its neighbors, who initially perceived it more as an eyesore rather than true art. The City demolished some of the project’s parts in 1991 and 1999. In addition, several fires destroyed twelve of the art installations, including a house covered in stuffed animals, in 2013 and 2014. However, Tyree Guyton’s relentless passion and tenacity, as well as his ongoing signature use of polka-dots make people hopeful about the project’s future.

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