The Heidelberg Project is part of what makes Detroit what it is: a place of surprises and the unexpected. And what a place it is! The project is located in one of the poorest sections of the city, and it has brought hope and stability to that neighborhood through art and education. It’s a center of outdoor creative expression that spans a multi-block area in one the toughest neighborhoods on Detroit’s near east side.
The open-air, urban folk art center features a tremendous amount of brightly painted everyday items such as boats, tires, kitchen appliances, old doors, sheets of plywood and hundreds of other discarded items that have been salvaged and constructed into vibrant pieces of art. Many of the abandoned homes along the streets are brightly painted and encased in art, as are many of the trees, utility poles, curbs and vacant lots.
The showcase area is filled with a broad, unusual array of colorful art pieces that have awed people of all ages, through eye-opening, artistic expression for well over 20 years. The thing I’ve noticed while riding through is its constant evolution. There are days, for example, I’d notice a small, colorful painted piece of wood or discarded chunk of metal that had recently been added to a larger installation. On other days, I’ve spotted new, brightly colored, everyday household items, such as unusually painted vacuum cleaners, strategically placed among a variety of other such things in a vacant lot on the site. There is the infamous two-story polka dot house, a row-boat full of stuffed animals, and many other eye-catching artifacts scattered throughout the property.
With so much to look at in the multi-block area of the project, sometimes the subtle touches and pointed messages can get overlooked. On my recent ride through the grounds, I came across a series of painted political messages, each held by a man in suit. Not a real man, but a realistic looking cardboard cutout of a smiling man. In his hands were the signs. The 8 to 10 or so hand-held signs were all in the same general area surrounding a brightly painted, message-ridden old house. Some were even attached to trees in front of the structure. A few were meaningful in their anti-war wording; others featured anti-drug messaging. Still others offered simple words that made me pause and think of where we are as a country and as a city.
An Update – It has come to my attention that the signs above are from Tim Burke’s Detroit Industrial Gallery. He is a resident artist on Heidelberg Street.