Heidelberg Project to Midtown

Hello, everyone! I’m Olivia Lepage, a sophomore at Concordia College majoring in Communication Studies with a minor in Film Studies. As a Detroit native, as soon as I heard about this High Impact Leadership Trip I was completely interested from the beginning. I decided to apply because the trip is about environmental justice, racism, and social activism; three things I’m passionate about discussing.

Day 3 of this trip, we went to The Heidelberg Project in Detroit. This public art project was started by artist Tyree Guyton, who grew up on Heidelberg St, in 1986. From the time Tyree was a young boy he was surrounded by paint and brushes because his grandfather was a painter, and as soon as he put a brush to a canvas he knew he wanted to be an artist. While he was growing up every corner of the neighborhood had barber shops, jazz clubs, convenience stores, and an abundance of culture. He even remembers during the Detroit Riots in the 1960’s seeing Black Panthers marching down Mt. Elliot St against the army tanks. Detroit’s East Side, a once lively area, now has abandoned homes with boarded up windows and doors, closed businesses, poverty, and little left of the neighborhoods in which Tyree grew up in. After coming back to his neighborhood in 1986, he saw the economic damage of his beloved home and decided that something needed to be done. Someone needed to make a statement. He started collecting everything he could find and made sculptures, painted his mother’s house (where she still lives on Heidelberg St today), and made his street into a public art project.

The house where Tyree grew up and where his mother and sister still live.

The mission of The Heidelberg Project is “to inspire people to appreciate and use artistic expression to enrich their lives and to improve the social and economic health of their greater community.” By embracing a diverse amount cultures and enriching people’s lives through art, Tyree is aiming to revitalize the community from the inside out. Unfortunately, some do not care for this public art project like most do. In the 1990’s, the city of Detroit came into the project twice and bulldozed a few art installations because they didn’t like that Tyree was making a statement about how the city was doing nothing to take care of its people and the homes in which they lived. Another few installations were burned down due to arson, so there were originally at least 10 installations in the 2000’s, now there are only a few left.

Installations on Heidelberg St.

Detroit is still struggling as the city does very little to help those who are in need, that’s why community members like Tyree Guyton are making a stand and doing what they can to revitalize it their beloved home.

Now, if you leave the East Side and go to Midtown or Eastern Market, you will see a different area of Detroit. Midtown, where Wayne State University and many museums are located, is a well manicured area compared to where Detroit’s real community members live. Using slang, you could call Midtown and Eastern Market kind of boujee! However, these areas help keep the city running because of tourism.

Growing up close to Detroit, I always noticed the difference in areas and the segregation in which still persists. Driving down Jeffries Freeway towards downtown Detroit, once you drove past Telegraph Rd it was almost as if you went through a wall. First, you’d be in an area that is white middle-class majority, then you go a few blocks down the street and you’re in an impoverished area. There is still so much inequality and segregation in Detroit that must be acknowledged, but many still ignore. Majority of the people I grew up with ignore this issue because we grew up in Livonia/Westland, suburbs near Detroit, therefore these issues did not affect us quite like those who live in the city.

Detroit is a city still struggling to get back on it’s feet after two recessions and a bankruptcy, but this city is coming back bigger and better than it’s ever been. You thought the city peaked? Get ready. You haven’t seen anything yet.

-Olivia Lepage ’19-


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