Decorated Houses Help Save a Detroit Neighborhood

Most of us decorate our front porches and lawns just for Halloween, the autumn harvest season and Christmas. But these homes in Detroit are decked out 365 days per year, thanks to the efforts of Tyree Guyton, creator and artist of The Heidelberg Project. Rather than being demolished, these mostly abandoned homes in Detroit’s oldest African American community are working out a powerful purpose as big canvases for eclectic, eye-catching artwork — and conserving a community.

“Detroit is worth saving. It’s a city most of us love for different reasons,” states Jenenne Whitfield, executive director of The Heidelberg Project. “The artwork on Heidelberg and Elba streets shows our efforts in restoring the spirit of a city and the hopes of this inner-city community.”

She can observe the way the arts community, both urban gardeners and farmers, and technology startups have convinced Detroit natives and other people to return Detroit and revive it from corrosion. “Residents in neighboring streets are now out crossing their sidewalks, fixing their broken homes one fixture, 1 shingle at a time and helping out a neighbor,” she states. “We prospered on a manufacturing industry that dropped, but we refuse to sit back and let Detroit fade off. We’ve got a responsibility to our city.”

Visitors to The Heidelberg Project stand on dotted street artwork with job founder Tyree Guyton (foreground).

“Detroit has ever been a race problem, a drug problem, a crime problem,” artist Tim Burke states. “But Tyree managed to do what no government agency has been able to do, which is to bring about dialogue concerning saving shameful, inner-city communities. Nowadays people from all around the world come here.” But just a few blocks of the arts community is not the same story. “nobody understands Tim Burke outside of this location,” he states. “nobody knows who you are if you are not from that street.”

The Heidelberg Project

Burke (revealed) owns a house on Heidelberg Street that he converted into his studio. “I lived there for 10 years before moving out,” he states. As in any inner city, “you need to make wise moves to make sure your safety,” he states. “And the plumbing and wiring of the house need a good deal of work.”

Burke’s industrial artwork fills the exterior of his orange house and the surrounding land. He’s usually within the house creating, maintaining and switching around his functions of art or welcoming visitors eager for a glimpse into his workspace.

The Heidelberg Project

Guyton climbed up in the Dotty Wotty house, the Most Well-known construction on Heidelberg Street. The house has been in Guyton’s household since 1947, and his mom still resides there.

The splashy dots represent Guyton’s carrying the path of artwork over the path of violence. “Tyree’s grandfather put a paintbrush in his hands after losing three of Tyree’s brothers into the streets. We are all happy that Tyree kept at it,” Whitfield says.

The Heidelberg Project

“We feel as if there’s a major arts and culture motion happening here in Detroit, and we are a huge part of this,” she states.

The Heidelberg Project

Donated stuffed creatures swarm the blue-green exterior of this home, dubbed The Party Animal House. The name stems from Detroit’s overgrown and abandoned tons, very similar to urban prairies. “You are able to observe foxes, pheasants and other creatures that aren’t typically found in city landscapes,” says Whitfield.

Although on and around Heidelberg you can purchase a home for $500, Burke claims that the inner city is not for everybody. “I understand that something new needs to occur for Detroit to go through the sort of rebirth that people want it to have,” he states. “Art’s a fantastic start, but it alone is not the answer.”

Understand About The Heidelberg Project here.

See related