Over the years, the Heidelberg Project has faced multiple crises that nearly destroyed the artwork: angry neighbors, two sets of demolition crews, arsonists.
Despite withstanding all those hardships, in 2016 artist Tyree Guyton announced that he would dismantle the open-air installation he created on the street where he grew up in the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood.
At the time, he said he was profoundly saddened by the fires that destroyed several homes, and that his growing commission work was taking up much of his time. The Heidelberg Project spans houses, lots, and the street itself—maintaining and evolving the installation is a constant effort.
Also, Guyton was 60 years old and the project was 30—he’d spent around half his life building it.
But plans were still very much up in the air and unlikely to result in a complete dismantling. Since then, Guyton has been building partnerships with companies and the city of Detroit, and considered turning parts of the work into a museum. In 2017, a crowdfunding campaign led to renovations at the “Numbers House.” And last year, the nonprofit arm of the artwork bought a house in the neighborhood for its new headquarters.
A profile in the New York Times this month gives more clues as to the next stage of the installation’s life.
By taking apart his life’s work, by effectively bringing Heidelberg up to code, Guyton and [partner Jenenne] Whitfield hope to partner with the Detroit Land Bank, which would allow them to buy up empty lots in McDougall-Hunt by the bundle. While preserving some of Guyton’s major works in place, their dream is to gradually transform the buildings that still stand into a series of cultural and educational centers dedicated to the arts, and then build housing and work spaces marketed for artists out of this central core. They hope that McDougall-Hunt will be supported by the arts in the same way it was once supported by the auto industry.
The project is becoming more official, and less under the complete purview of Guyton. And more importantly, not being dismantled. Thats a huge relief for fans of the work and the approximately 200,000 people that visit it every year.