Heidelberg-ology is the Spirit of Detroit

By: Jenenne Whitfield and Sharon Vanderkaay

December 21, 2013

Fire, violence and loss are a major part of Detroit’s painful story and have become a tragic part of our saga. As we know too well, fifty years of appalling neglect in our city cannot be quickly halted or neatly undone. The human cost of long-term neglect is seen and felt all around us. Massive gaps in city services make these bad situations worse. In such a dismal reality, what can anguished, angry citizens do instead of merely enduring assault after assault?

What we can do is come together to show that the spirit of the Heidelberg Project is flameproof. This enduring fireproof substance is known as Heidelberg-ology…and this spirit is bigger than the dis-ease that haunts our city. The art that this spirit generates is more powerful than arson.

Detroit has been called a lot of things but no one would say we are bland, boring or phony. For many years we were happy to be known as the Motor City because machines were the basis of our lives and our economy. But now is a crucial time in our history when we must see ourselves as more than extensions of machines. We are becoming more than a Motor City.

We are proud of our past but we need to expand how we think and what we do and what we expect from our corporations in response to real human needs. The conformity and mind-numbing work of the old Detroit must be replaced by creative thinking and questioning the status quo. This expanded vision is at the core of Heidelberg-ology.

What if we pursue a dream that is ten times bolder for ourselves and for Detroit—what if we build on our assets to become the Most Human City in America? What would it take for every person to be part of a movement that understands what it really means to be human—and to be alive and thrive in a city that is growing out of its turmoil? What will it take for Detroit to emerge stronger and funkier than ever from the stigma of bankruptcy? What would it take for every citizen—and indeed our whole region—to be connected by more than highways? These are the questions the Heidelberg Project brings from the shadows to the surface.

Heidelberg-ology is a way of seeing the world that originated right here in this neighborhood. Being born in the heart of Detroit means being constantly aware, it means altering course and being creative when enormous barriers appear. And most of all, it means being your “own” self with people you love and respect.
To be a Human City instead of a Motor City is to reveal raw emotions, natural imperfections, contradictions, and dramatic ups and downs. To be a Human City instead of a Motor City is to be part of a greater cause. Heidelberg-ology seeks to magnify and amplify the famous qualities of Detroiters. For nearly three decades The Heidelberg Project has been a place of art, community, resilience, resourcefulness and living with risk. It has attracted controversy, resistance, and intense feelings of love and hate. It UNWILLINGLY became a battle ground that has withstood damage by bulldozers and now WILLFUL destruction by fire.

We must preserve and protect the creative spirit and contributions of The Heidelberg Project on a global scale. Because of Tyree, visitors from around the world have become aware of forgotten people in a forgotten neighborhood. He has shown how ordinary things and forgotten people can become extraordinary. The HP is upheld as a fertile ground for creating art from existing fragments; the evidence of waste, consumption and greed. International visitors are captivated by layers of rich, aching evidence of what has happened and continues to happen in Detroit.

Other people in communities around the world are also grappling with the fallout of the post-industrial era and can learn from what we do here. The legacy of the HP is that it presents new possibilities and continues to feed a creative, citizen-led way out of troubled times. This is the ultimate Detroit story: how an abused and assaulted city learned to re-channel its anger and frustration.

We must continue to stand for justice and we must not be afraid to stand in defiance of this evil! To survive economic trauma and its debilitating side effects, the citizens of Detroit are constantly called upon to find another way through the darkness. The stark reality of an open art environment located in a city in turmoil has made it necessary to confront these dark forces.

We must also continue to reach across economic and geographical boundaries and to bridge cultural differences through artistic expression. Tyree is raising awareness for the power of "art as medicine" in a community that has been devastated. People are hurting and in a state of hopelessness, despair and destruction. Standard medicine cannot cure what ails many in our communities.

As we try and wrap our heads around what we have experienced in the last seven month, we recall a saying “everything happens for a reason.” Maybe, just maybe, the old is making room for the new. One thing I know for sure, Yahweh our Elohim, the source my strength has a plan bigger than all of us. Here is our resolve: We are certain that the Heidelberg Project will propel to a new and even greater height and a new promise for the future of Detroit.

Thank you, on behalf of Tyree Guyton, the staff, and volunteers, to all of you who have come out to show your love and support.

Written for the Heidelberg Project Winter Solstice, Walk for Artistic Freedom and Holiday Hug