THE BLOG
05/07/2013 06:26 pm ET | Updated Jul 07, 2013

Fire at the Heidelberg Project is a Snapshot of Presence

I can only recount the feeling that comes over me when I am in the presence of great art. It is a feeling in the moment, of its own time, in its own experience. One may revisit the object of art, but the revisit is really an entirely new and unique interaction with the work. It is the sense I had when I saw the Statue of David, or the Mona Lisa, it is the sense that enveloped me at the Guggenheim in New York. Yet the greatest presence I ever had was at Detroit's own Heidelberg Project born from the strength and soul of where the region lives, in the neighborhoods.

The recent fire at the Heidelberg Project creates a lot to think about in the greater aspects of what it means to try to recreate a city. The Heidelberg Project is centered on growth in the middle of blight. It is a place to seed ideas and nurture them with hope and creativity. The incident of fire at the project is really a snapshot of the movement happening in the region. Beyond an art project standing alone in the national recognition, the Heidelberg Project is a symbol of what can happen coming from the community. Now in its 27th year, the project was new Detroit before anyone had really given consideration that Detroit needed to be new.

And yet the fire represents the long burning scar that the neighborhoods have been struggling with as long as many can remember. It reminds me of the arson at Detroit's Imagination Station in Corktown last year. They are stories showing what is so enduring about hope and what is so destructive about ignorance. One can see the fire at the Heidelberg Project as being the story of Detroit. It can be a story of crushed dreams, and a story of sparked rage at the unjustified actions of the few. The project became the presence of its own mission struggling to survive in the flames of devastation.

Though it also allows for double meaning to the idea of creative destruction. The idea that a physical flame can never last forever, but an eternal light never needs to be rekindled. The story of fire is really just a scene readying its audience for the next act. The Heidelberg Project has never been a presence on Detroit east side just sustaining against the elements both natural and man-made. It has always been a presence growing to multiple city blocks and over 275,00 annual visitors. As a work of art to me, it is the story of us in the struggle of society where rebirth comes from within. The Heidelberg Project has drawn many in awe, controversy, and destruction, which is a testament of rebirth because it lets the world know that it is alive. It lets the world know that Detroit is alive.

Art in the region can almost hide from itself at times, but it never means that it is forgotten. The region protects its art institutions, as seen in the millage to save The Detroit Institute of Art, and encourages new expression in art fairs, colleges, and design start-ups. The fire at the Heidelberg Project is not really a call to save, but a call to recount the presence that is art for change in a city where renaissance is in the motto of the soul. It is a moment to recreate a rise from the ashes and recreate the presence of a better life.