Houses as Art: The Heidelberg Project in Detroit

It’s the 25th anniversary of The Heidelberg Project in Detroit, Michigan, a kind of sprawling, outdoor art display that you have to see to believe. It was created by a local resident named Tyree Guyton after the street he grew up on (Heidelberg) became blighted by abandoned houses and empty lots.

Tyree wanted to do something about the problems he saw there. He says he felt like God telling him to bring hope and inspiration back to his neighborhood. As an artist, he says, his job is “to come up with solutions.”

This was the vision he had–to turn houses and cars and, well, whatever he could get his hands on, into whimsical, makes-you-do-a-double-take art.

According to Agility Nut:

“The block that was once home to drug dealers is now filled with brightly painted houses, cars, and signs, as well as handmade sculpture of bicycles, vacuums, shoe, dolls, stuffed animals, etc.

“In 1999, about half the Project was demolished by the City when the Mayor declared it an eyesore. It has since been recognized as a local landmark with international support. The Heidelberg Project has become an ongoing community project.”

The artist Tyree Guyton says his art is bringing people back into a neighborhood they would otherwise avoid in a video you can watch here.

It has definitely been a controversial project, and not everyone is a fan. But it has also become a tourist attraction with visitors coming from around the world to see it in person. “If I can do just one small thing to help this community come back,” he says, “then I’ve done my job.”

You can read more on The Heidelberg Project website and see photos of the ever-evolving art projects here. (Thanks to Cindy for help with this one!)

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Comments

  1. says

    Let’s put this way, it’s not something I’d do on my house but I wouldn’t judge whoever is doing it. They’re definitely very creative!

    Wishing you and your family a very blessed weekend!

    xo

    Luciane at HomeBunch.com

  2. says

    I read about this project a while ago, and having grown up outside Detroit, and now seeing building after building abandoned when I go into the city, I think this is just magnificent. What an amazing way to take a bad situation and make it positive and creative. Bravo!

  3. says

    I think it is gorgeous and a whole heap better looking than a street of drug dealers.

    I wish someone would take this on in Cleveland or East Cleveland. Just a little something to beautify and inspire.

    And totally off topic–the color of the wall in the art museum right around 2:30 in the video is absolutely the color I am using in my dining room (two walls painted–1 and a half to go)!

  4. Lisa says

    Wow!! This is Homeowners Associations nightmare!!! But I love it we all need a little art in our lives!!

  5. Cheryl F says

    Well why not! I realize we wouldn’t all want our neighbourhoods to look this way but it has to better than looking at abandoned houses and a neighbourhood that is falling apart and its spirit fading away. Good on you Tyree for all of your efforts to make a difference.

    • A.Men says

      Yuk! This mess makes the slum look worse! Such wasted effort elevated to art — NOT — just yuk!

  6. Derek says

    Sorry. I can’t help feeling that these old houses feel a little humilated. It’s like a 90 year old woman in hooker makeup.

  7. Mike says

    Can’t say I’m a fan. It makes the houses look like they are from the set of the 1980 live-action Popeye movie.

    Creative, but not sure it made the neighborhoods look any better.

  8. handbright says

    Thank you so much for this- as much as I would love to see that folks were brave enough to move into these houses and renovate them with loving care, putting in perfect period faucets and wonderful old finishes, I know that kind of investment will only happen when folk who have lived in these neighborhoods forever are forced out. This post has made me understand that rethinking an entrenched aesthetic is never easy. This has nothing to do with restoring and everything to do with public art. These neighborhoods need access to that idea, big time. Who knows who will be inspired to go on to do amazing things! Bravo!

  9. Beverly Palmer says

    Hooray! I definitely applaud all who bring life (even if it’s a bit too artsy for my style) back into old, abandoned homes.

  10. Barbara says

    I don’t find it artsy. I find it too much clutter. Like a hoarders house.

  11. says

    Not a fan, just looks like junk that has been painted over. Would it not be better just to renovate the homes and make them more liveable? Bright colours are ok, and I know the intention is well-meant. Check out Bradenton, Florida “Village of the Arts” where they have taken older bungalows and painted them bright colours. They are bright and fun and have attracted many artists to the area, they live, work and have galleries in these homes and people come from all over to see them and buy crafts made by the artists. Might be a better concept as it also provides jobs!

  12. elsieb says

    This man is a unique blessng. I think it is wonderful that someone can take an area that trashy and make it look that way. I think it is cute and a wonderful reminder that you can make a purse from a sow’s ear.

  13. Brigid says

    I live here in the Detroit suburbs, and like his work or not, he has done wonders for giving Detroit some of its good name back. He has inspired many local art students, and if you’ve ever seen some of these Detroit city blocks, his colorful works are very cheery compared to what they looked like before. Easy to say restore, tear down, etc. if you aren’t from here and don’t know all of the challenges this city and it’s people face each day. There are streets and streets of abandoned homes, and this is one way to keep the blight from being so overwhelming! Way to go, Tyree!

  14. Kim says

    I know Tyree’s trying to make his town more attractive, but I am not a fan. I think it would have been better to try and come up with something that would bring in some money or even make the homes liveable enough.

  15. says

    So that is considered an eyesore as opposed to crack houses and homes of violent drug dealers?! I applaud his tenacity and creativity. Wonderful post, Julia!

  16. says

    Urban Detroit breaks my heart and I think the Heidelberg Project is awesome. Definitely not an eyesore, in my opinion. What are the alternatives? A bleak urban prairie? A cluster of abandoned buildings occupied by squatters? The whole thing razed and a hideous development of cheaply-built faux suburban houses? This project makes people think about what Detroit once was, its history and its future.

  17. says

    It wouldn’t be for me…..but it’s much better than the drug houses!!! I think it would be pretty cool to check it out in person sometime!
    Thanks for sharing:)

  18. says

    I live in a suburb of Detroit, and I grew up in Detroit! I think it is nice to see Detroit in any positive light, as the media tends to demonize the city to no end!

  19. says

    I’ve only ever been to the Detroit airport – but I am fascinated with it’s story of corruption and its demise in general. To think over 2 million people lived here at 1 point in time and now it’s less than half that.

    I don’t “like” the artwork Tyree is creating but I can appreciate his desire to do something to bring attention and media into his city that needs help so desperately.
    Here is a sad view of things happening there:
    http://www.viceland.com/int/v16n2/htdocs/schools-out-forever-625.php

  20. says

    Beats vacant land full of drug dealers and homeless people! Having grown up just north of Detroit in Grosse Pointe, I am happy to see that someone is doing something creative! I remember seeing something like this in Detroit years ago, could be part of the same project? Not sure it was so long ago!

  21. Rebecca says

    Thank you so much for sharing this inspiring story. I find the comments suggesting renovation, calling it an eye soar and generally insulting the project woefully ignorant of the horrible economic and social issues of Detroit, and rust belt cities in general.
    Thank you again for the moving story.

  22. says

    There was a house very much like these here in Greenville, SC. It was right across the street from a million dollar neighborhood. A year or so back, it must have changed hands because all of the art was suddenly gone. No one ever did anything with the property…I figure most of the neighbors thought it was an eyesore, but it was really unique and sort of a landmark.

  23. Dawn says

    I’m not a fan of the art itself but I like the creativity and good intention behind it.

  24. Wayne says

    People suggesting that these houses be renovated really do no understand the scope of problems in Detroit.

    The city is built to hold 2 million people, it has a quarter of that and still falling, unemployement is around thirty percent, the school system will be shutdown any day now, I think we’re back to having the highest murder rate in the country again this year and corruption in city government is rampant.

    The average house price is around $12k The hundred year old 3,000 sq ft homes in the best neighborhoods go for about $30k. You’ll spend $100k, to make it livable, $200k to “restore it.” Then it will be worth $35k. Ask me how I know. Of course, you’ll still be paying $1000 to a month for our six months of winter, be taxed by the city at 1950 rates, when your house would have been worth 250k. And good luck getting homeowners insurance because who’s gonna spend 200k, on a house worth 20k? Right?

    Oh, and living in the city you’ll also have a 45 minute commute to get to a national brand grocery store. :)

    Barring divine intervention, Detroit isn’t a job for renovators. It’s a job for a very ambitious landscape designer.

  25. says

    I was gobsmacked when I saw this post! I can’t believe I didn’t know about this! I was born and raised in Detroit and vicinity. If the people who poo-pooed this colorful little oasis knew what lurks in the surrounding area, they would applaud this man and his vision. I will post a piece about this, linking back to this post, on Tuesday. This is worth passing on!

  26. Michelle says

    While I’m not a huge fan of most of the art shown in these pictures (I do love the juicy orange house), I would live there over a McMansion suburban sprawl area any day of the week. And twice on Tuesdays.

    I think what Tyree is trying to do is wonderful.

  27. kerry says

    it’s important to note that the pictures above do not dipict only the Heidelberg project but also another local artist who tried to jump onto Tyree’s coattails. this other artist posts pieces with extremely political (and whacky) views. Tyree’s art had changed the neighborhood from being abandoned eyesores to colorful mosaic pieces. furthermore, local children get involved with art by making pictures that are hung in the Numbers House like an art gallery. it’s local, tangible art to many youth who may not encounter any otherwise. this year, the project celebrates its 25th year. considering most art galleries don’t last nearly that long, having a permanent art exhibit in a downtrodden neighborhood is quite an accomplishment, in my opinion. and just because it’s not a Rembrandt doesn’t mean it’s not treasured art.

  28. JOJO says

    I hope many of these ppl out here in the world.
    They show lots love, be yourself is nothing wrong,
    creative mind, they bring us tons of good things, good heart.
    I really loved the video.
    Thank you for sharing this!!

  29. Sarah says

    What great photos! Recently elder care expert Dr. Marion visited the Heidelberg Project. If you’re interested, you can watch footage of it here:

    http://youtu.be/IwTCNYNsmbo

    Thanks for the post!

    Sarah

  30. Jon says

    Was an Experience! !..A Very wonderful one at that! Great Job Tyree!! Bring Detroit Back!But first gotta get rid of the Democrats and Unions..Do that and We got our Detroit back!!!! Bring on the Art Tyree!!!

  31. Liz of Detroit says

    LOVE IT. It’s great! It is MUCH better to look at than abandoned houses with holes all through it, walls caving in, etc.

  32. NYC says

    City of Detroit should sale the abandonded homes for a reasonable price. This will be the incentive to move back and fix up the homes.

    Your art is beautiful – but just a band aide on a big sore.