As the Heidelberg Project celebrates its 25th year of existence, art experts in the area see room for growth in Detroit’s artist scene.
The man who founded Heidelberg — Dr. Tyree Guyton, who received an honorary degree from the College for Creative Studies in 2010 — is considered by some to be one of the pioneers of the city’s art movement.
“He was the forerunner,” said Jenenne Whitfield, executive director of Heidelberg. “In 1986 … he was on the battlefield and took a lot of the shots and really stood up for public art in the city.
“And I think that if you talk to some of the artists in doing some of the projects in the public realm, they will tell you their work is more accepted in the public scene because Tyree fought many battlefields.”
Beth Diamond, assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Michigan, said Heidelberg served as a gateway for people to come to Detroit and realize how vibrant an art scene it had.
She also said some artists are entering the scene and using Guyton’s techniques.
“I think what’s happening now is that there’s people coming from the outside who are getting a lot of media attention — who are doing a lot of super-cool stuff — but there’s also people in the city who have been doing it for a while,” Diamond said.
Aku Kadogo, the director of Wayne State’s Black Theatre Program, also said people are currently emulating his open style of art.
“By having his project in the open, for discussion, no matter which side of the fence you ride with his work, he’s provided an incentive for all people who witness his work,” she said.
Guyton, in fact, keeps busy. He currently has two art displays open, including CCS’ “Tea for Two,” until April 30, and a 25-year retrospective exhibition at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
He is also set to take up an artist residency in Basel, Switzerland, at the end of the year.
“He has been internationally recognized, and it will surely influence the direction of the Heidelberg Project in the future,” Kadogo said.
And it’s from Guyton’s recognition and experiences that the new generation of artists who are moving to the Midtown area can learn, Diamond said, “the deep knowledge of the city and where this art is coming from and also ways to reflect and open up the artistic dialogue to residents who already live here,” she said.
Whitfield said there is room for expansion with the next generation of artists in Midtown, especially through leaders such as Midtown Detroit’s Sue Mosey and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.
Diamond said expansion would happen if the division between the art scene’s “insiders” and “outsiders” is resolved.
“It’s more about people creating mutual networks that are going to move the city ahead,” she said.
“I think working together is key in that regard and respecting and building upon the legacy of some of these other people who have been doing this work.”