One of the highlights of a Detroit art tour is the outdoor work-in-progress art environment that is The Heidelberg Project. Started in 1986 by Tyree Guyton, the houses on Heidelberg Street have fantastically painted exteriors, and also feature site-specific installations of found items. Each house has a readily understandable theme--dots, numbers, pennies, stuffed animals. The aesthetic is fun, playful, handmade, and yet also primitivist and primal, appealing to children and art enthusiasts alike.
A stroll down Heidelberg Street’s polka-dotted lane includes a visitation with Miss Otila of the Yellow House. Here, visitors can sign-in to the 'guest book' for the neighborhood by tagging the yellow façade of her house for a small donation. She also appears to be a rather savvy digital media marketing guru, quick to point out that Yellow House has a digital presence, and that images of signatures are uploaded onto the Yellow House’s Facebook page.
As an attempt to transform an inner-city neighborhood into a safe(r) space for community residents, The Heidelberg Project is testament to the potential healing power of art.
I recently visited Detroit on a whirlwind trip. As it was so jampacked, I hope to write about it in bits.
In preparation, I had been reading Jerry Herron’s elegiac homage to Detroit in I Remember Detroit (2004). Herron describes Detroit’s varied history as being a reflection of America’s confrontation with, and answer to, itself. For example, in the late 1920s, Detroit was touted as the “city of tomorrow”—at that time, Detroit was viewed as a place that reflected only the future, and neither the past nor the present.
Measuring “six times the land mass of Manhattan but is now home to only 700,000 people, down from 1.8 million”, should the Detroit of today be re-built? And if so, in what way? Now that Detroit is seeking bankruptcy protection, an interesting question that has arisen is whether the art collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) should be deaccessioned to satisfy the city’s creditors. At issue is whether the collection of a non-profit museum should be used as an asset class—similar to any other—or whether it should be treated differently.
I’d like to think that it’s possible to answer the above question in a way that allows DIA to uphold its charitable mission by holding its collection in the public trust.