The Heidelberg Project, a well-known Detroit open-air art installation, has faced a slew of problems since May 2013. Nine arsons have destroyed a large portion of the project, leaving room for speculation and rumor about the organization. In order to rebuild and succeed, the Heidelberg Project is calling for help from the Detroit community, and is offering special opportunities for students willing to lend a hand.
The ninth arson occurred in March. “To be honest, the ninth arson was very tough, very surreal. It seems as though once we began to recover from the trauma of eight fires, another Indiegogo campaign, fast and furious security planning and intensive strategy sessions, we were hit again” said Katie Hearn, the marketing and communications coordinator for the Heidelberg Project, in an emailed statement to The South End.
The Heidelberg Project began in 1986 through the efforts of Detroit artist Tyree Guyton. The project was originally designed to bring attention to the ongoing blight and decay in the neighborhood where Guyton grew up. Located on the 3600 block of Heidelberg Street on Detroit’s east side, the charred ruins of the “Party Animal House” makes a stark contrast to the colorful and lively installations that remain.
“It’s clear to us that the Heidelberg Project is ready for its next chapter, and we’re open to it, we’re excited for it,” said Hearn. “We’ve been forced out of our comfort zone and I can’t help but believe that’s because we have the right people, the right intentions and the necessary resolve to, as Tyree likes to say, flip the script.”
After the fifth arson, the Heidelberg Project reached out to the community on the crowd-funding website indiegogo.com asking for donations to pay for increased security around the installations. The fundraiser raised $54,280. Since the arsons have continued, however, speculation began to rise on how the money has been spent, specifically from independent journalism blog Motor City Muckraker. In a recent article, Muckraker founder Steve Neavling questioned how the non-profit used the funds and how it has been operating.
Since the article, the Heidelberg Project has released a detailed infographic on how funds have been spent and says they’re open from questions from the community.
“We’ve been aware that Detroiters are often the least familiar with the mission and history of the Heidelberg Project as an organization, and the initial response to this article definitely confirmed that,” said Hearn.
“We’ve been making strides to address that disparity, though, so seeing the number of people that did speak up in our defense was like winning the lottery. Overall though, I’d say the Motor City Muckraker article has given us an opportunity to share our mission with new groups of followers, including a new generation of Detroiters.”
Since the last arson, the non-profit is now focused on moving forward and continuing the vision of the Heidelberg Project.
“We’re working on some great plans, from summer workshops and edible sculpture gardens to community conversations and home improvements. We’re very excited to get back to our roots,” said Hearn.
In order to succeed in the next chapter, the Heidelberg Project says it still needs community support. “We do need support from our larger community at large, though. We can’t help but succeed once our Detroit community understands our work, “ said Hearn, “We need platforms from which to educate, learn, and converse. We need advocates and allies to ask questions and share stories. We need Detroiters to get involved and meet us halfway-- we’re all in this together, after all!”
Opportunities to help the Heidelberg Project are available to sympathetic students.
“We are currently looking for interns to help us develop content for social media, blogs, and podcasts, an intern for web maintenance, and even an intern dedicated to Tyree!” said Hearn. Information on internships can be found under the “Get Involved” section of Heidlebergproject.org
Other volunteer opportunities are always available at the Heidelberg Project and can be found in the same section of the website. Other volunteer opportunities can be found on the Heidelberg Project’s Facebook page. Student organizations can find out about larger scale volunteer activities or alternative spring break programs by contacting the Heidelberg Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.