For the last 27 years, the Heidelberg Project (HP) in Detroit has stood as a symbol of hope, resilience and creative ingenuity. It has evolved to become one of most influential visual expressions of art in the world. Today, the Heidelberg Project packs a history that has attracted the attention of the Smithsonian Institute and is surely going down as a great American story (see timeline).
One might say that The Heidelberg Project's founder Tyree Guyton, DFA, knows something that the rest of us don't. Guyton certainly appears to have a love affair with the city of Detroit. He has worked non-stop for 27 years on Heidelberg Street and has received very little return; that is, from his beloved city. Let me be clear as to what I mean when I say "city." I'm talking about city officials and their stale, ineffective political culture that has failed and insulted its citizens. I have watched a myriad of sorry-ass political maneuverings, political corruption and cultural, civic and citizen malaise permeate Detroit for far too long. It's no wonder that when a citizen does take a stand for positive change, it's hardly recognized for what it is. Instead, as in the case of Guyton, it is rewarded with bulldozers and zero support -- financial or otherwise.
In 2011, Williams Colleges in Cambridge, Mass., conducted an economic impact study on the activities of the Heidelberg Project and that study revealed that the HP contributes $3.2 million to the region of Wayne County, and $2.7 million to the local community on a budget of less than $500,000.
"We studied 35 organizations around the country, and there's no organization we've studied with a budget this modest that is bringing in near this number of visitors," said Stephen Sheppard, director of C3D. "They are punching way above their weight." Oh, the irony.
How did city officials -- or even business leaders for that matter -- seek to maximize or harness this economic growth? They did nothing, notwithstanding Crain's front-page news story. Nothing!
Now, here we stand in 2013, approaching a 30-year legacy and for the first time in the history of the Heidelberg Project, we are faced with a malicious act of arson. The story made national and international news with headlines like "World Renown Art Project" or "Iconic Cultural Gem," and yet we never received as much as a phone call, letter, or email from one city leader/official. I am sure that many are thinking (as I have thought) that city leaders have bigger problems to deal with and to this I now say, bullshit. It's not just about an art project, it's about a community. It's about vision and fortitude. It's about exploring novel and creative ways of rebuilding our communities. It's about hope and its working! The Heidelberg Project is part of the solution. The apathy, malaise, disregard or whatever you want to call it perpetuated by city officials after 27 years is inexcusable!
This is not the only recent fire in the area; there have been four in the last six months (photos). Thanks to the Detroit Fire Department, the last three were insignificant. The real irony here is that we think we know who is responsible. In fact, there are people in the community who are willing to speak up! Where in the hell is the investigation?
Firefighters respect the Heidelberg Project and to their credit they continue to keep a close watch. According to Guyton, a Detroit police officer told him, "I want to help, but the investigators dropped the ball; you have to go to the top."
Now, here are my questions to whoever is running the city of Detroit: Where is the top? What is it going to take to get a shred of help/support? Does the Heidelberg Project hold any value in the city of Detroit? Do the people in this community matter? And, yes, I am looking for answers!
One young man wrote us and asked as a matter of fact, "Why don't you get security cameras like the Detroit Institute of Arts?" Oh, how I loved this! After a good hearty laugh thinking about our budget, a sobering thought hit me. . .
Dan Gilbert, can we talk?