Art from the Ashes: Securing a Legacy

In just 8 months, the world renowned Heidelberg Project has lost 5 of its most prominent art installations to arson. Our community needs security, and fast.

As a result of the 1967 race riots in Detroit, Tyree Guyton returned to his childhood stomping grounds to find them riddled with trash, drugs, and violence. Of the many abandoned, ignored neighborhoods around the city, Guyton's was statistically one of the hardest hit. As people had rushed to move out, crime had eagerly moved in.

Having already lost three brothers to the very streets he'd grown up on, Tyree decided to take a stand. In 1986, he started the Heidelberg Project as a way to use art to brighten the neighborhood for the many children on his block, but also to call attention to the extreme blight that had enveloped his community. Tyree took stake in his community, and as a result, not a single serious crime was reported within a two block radius of the project for over 26 years. The project is now in its 27th year.

Today, the Heidelberg Project (HP) is the third most visited cultural destination in Detroit and one of the world's most iconic displays of community art. The inspirational and controversial art environment, built largely by repurposing found and abandoned materials and homes, spans two city blocks and has generated $3.4 million for the city of Detroit. 

An Urgent Need

On May 3rd of this year, the HP suffered an unprecedented blow: The longest standing house installation on the project was nearly entirely claimed by a "suspicious" fire. Despite many leads and tips, the city's arson investigators were unable to make an arrest due to lack of municipal resources. Six months passed before the arsonist returned to finish the job, burning the Obstruction of Justice house completely to the ground on October 5th, 2013.

Just days later, the project was rocked by two more early morning arson attempts. The Number House and Penny House were targeted, but only suffered minor damage. Just as we paused to take a breath, the arsonist struck again. The popular House of Soul installation was leveled in the wee hours of November 12th, leaving behind nothing but charred rubble and bits of the vinyl records that once adorned it. 

Now, just five house installations remain, intermingled with the homes of our longtime neighbors and family members. Despite the fact that we are clearly under attack and believe we know who is responsible, the city's arson investigators claim they don't have the resources to pursue the investigation.  We must take matters into our own hands! 

UPDATE: In the early morning hours of November 21, the Heidelberg Project lost a THIRD home installation to arson. The Penny House on Mt. Elliot Street, which was under renovation to become our new offices and community center, has been reduced to rubble. The Penny House now rests in our hearts along with the OJ House and the House of Soul, leaving only 4 house installations remaining. Though we lost another house, the authorities have since launched a more in-depth investigation into the arson attacks.

UPDATE: On November 28, 2013 we were hit again by arson. The War Room house, the former home of Motown Legend Wilson Pickett, went up in flames around 5:15AM. Our patrol was present, but because the area is so dark, and the man was wearing dark clothing, it was difficult to catch him in the act.

UPDATE: December 8, 2013, The Clock House on Elba Street became the fifth home installation lost to arson. The blaze began much earlier than those preceding it, and just minutes before our patrolman arrived for his shift. We assure you we are adapting security and surveillance measures currently in place, and working in complete cooperation with the ATF.

Beyond the Artwork

The destruction of artwork and history is disheartening and frustrating, yes. The fact that these fires are inching nearer and nearer to our long time neighbors, however, is absolutely unacceptable.

Just as Tyree didn't wait for others to change his community, we cannot wait for others to secure it.  We have decided on three primary security measures to implement immediately within the extended Heidelberg Project Community: 

  • Nightly mobile patrol (already in place, but with limited funding)
  • Improved lighting of the area (solar-powered for sustainability)
  • Surveillance cameras (strategically integrated into lighting equipment, equipped with remote monitoring capabilities)

While our course of action is clear, the source of funding for this endeavor is not. Initial estimates for the necessary additions already teeter past $50,000. Unfortunately, it is unrealistic to believe that we will meet this demand on our own. That doesn't mean it's impossible; if each one of our Facebook friends gave just $1, we'd be more than half way there!

*If for some reason the Indiegogo Gods do not smile in our favor and we don't reach our entire goal, the funds that are raised will foot the bill for as much of the security cost as possible. For example, although Nightly patrols are already underway, there is absolutely no wiggle room in the budget to sustain this cost.

Make it a Movement

Wishing you could contribute some other way? You can! We need all the help we can get spreading the word about what we're up against here. PLEASE share this campaign with your friends & family and let them know why YOU believe we're a worthy cause. 

Share right from this Indiegogo page, tell a neighbor or coworker, and definitely follow us on Facebook (The Heidelberg Project) for share-worthy news, graphics, and updates. We're on Twitter, and Instagram, too (@heidelbergproj). 

Interested in donating surveillance equipment, expertise, or services? We're all ears! Reach us at (313)974-6894 or Information@heidelberg.org.


Team on This Campaign: