Using repurposed urban detritus and his own colorful disposition, local artist Tyree Guyton turned an ordinary Detroit street into an art installation that has become a global attraction. Now, after 30 years of developing and maintaining the Heidelberg Project, Guyton is dismantling it piece by piece and stepping away, a process he believes is necessary for the next stage of its evolution. Culture Trip caught up with him to reflect on the history of the project, the story behind Heidelberg 3.0, and what’s next for this Detroit icon.
After so many years of dedication, Guyton’s announcement that the Heidelberg Project as we know it would be dismantled in order to make way for something called “Heidelberg 3.0” certainly came as a surprise. Guyton started the project in 1986, shortly after returning to the street he grew up on, after having been away serving in the army. He was shocked at the level of physical deterioration and the problems afflicting residents, and he took it upon himself to do something about it. Clearing and cleaning the street and its vacant lots led to the first found object installations, and he soon began brightening it up further with his paintbrush.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
It hasn’t been an easy ride, particularly in the early days, with the city, police, and locals all opposed to the project at different times. But with the Heidelberg Project now a well-established Detroit landmark, the decision to overhaul raises a lot of questions about what the future will hold for Guyton, the project, and the neighborhood.
How do you feel about the project 30 years after it began?
I’m more excited now because I have 30 years under my belt. The best is yet to come.
In terms of personal goals for the project, what achievements are you most proud of?
Two honorary doctorates, visitors from over 144 countries and the fact that I have started an art movement in Detroit that is being heard around the world.
Are there goals that have you not been able to accomplish yet?
For 31 years we have been trying to purchase the 48 lots that we have been maintaining so that we can move to the next phase of the project. Although our work has continued these 30 years, we can move the process along much quicker when we have land ownership.
No other names are really associated with the project, what role have other people played in the project over the years?
The HP was started by me 30 years ago. This is the street where I was born and raised. The Polka Dot House has been in my family since 1947, so I have intimate ties to this area. Throughout the years, I have invited other artists to participate by creating various installations. Also, many children (who are now grown) participated in various activities and installations. The project is a gift to the community, but the upkeep and maintenance have been the responsibility of the HP.
What can you tell us about Heidelberg 3.0?
What I can tell you is that I have laid the foundation for something even greater and I have turned the new vision over to Jenenne Whitfield. As the first and only CEO, she will take the project to the next level.
What made you decide to go in a new direction with the project after so long?
Changing with the times and my own mortality. I have given 31 years of my life to my city and this community. Change is exciting and keeps me thinking!
Have you met with resistance over your idea to dismantle the project?
In ways that you can’t believe! People are saying things like “this is authentically Detroit, my children grew up watching you, the HP is important to Detroit, etc.” I admit this makes it somewhat difficult, but people don’t really understand that the dismantling process is also a work of art. I want to see it from both sides.
Has it been hard dismantling longstanding work?
Imagine an elevator with 30 floors with me traveling up for 30 years. As I come down, I’m stopping on every floor. What this means is that the dismantling process is just that, a process. Dismantling the HP is also a work of art in reverse! Several works will go to museums and travel the country. It’s a very thoughtful process for me, and it will take time.
Do you ever see yourself walking away from it?
Heidelberg is in my DNA, but nothing lasts forever. The foundation has been laid, the roots are deep, and the HP will continue beyond me.
What ambitions do you have away from the project?
So many. For years, I have been invited to other places to execute new projects and works so I am excited to do other things. Currently, I am working on a project in Philly’s Kensington community, an area riddled with a heroin epidemic.
How do you feel about the city of Detroit as a whole in 2017?
I see the city of Detroit on the move, but it has great challenges with balancing the playing field. However, my MO is to stay focused and to do my part to contribute to the growth and resurgence of the city where I was born and raised.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.