The Life and Times of the Heidelberg Project, a Postscript

June 2017

Thanks to all of those people who came out to see my extensive Summer exhibit, The Life and Times of the Heidelberg project at the Detroit Mercy library.  It was a lot of work to put it together.  I still need to sort through the papers, photos and clippings which I removed from the showcases.

Thanks also, for checking out these three blog posts.  I’ll write more about the project, eventually.


Circa 1991


I learned a lot about the Heidelberg Project by curating and installing this exhibit.

It’s early days are special to me.  When Sam Mackey was alive, it was still so new and fresh.  It’s been difficult to keep it magical, strange and beautiful.  Considering all the obstacles and setbacks that they’ve faced, I think that they’ve done a good job.

I got to help with it, in those early days.  Later in the 1990’s, the Heidelberg Project helped to inspire me to create my own massive street art project, in the heart of downtown Detroit.  I got to see what it’s like firsthand.

This was the J.L. Hudson’s Building Project, which covered all four sides of the abandoned Hudson’s Building.  Over several years,  I drew over 500 chalk drawings on the black plywood which covered up the display windows.   I never got permission, never got arrested and most people seemed to like it.

It was tough to keep this project up, for 2 or 3 years.  It has to be even tougher, to keep something up for over 30 years.

Woodward 15too

Some of my 1990’s artwork on the J.L. Hudson’s Building


In doing this exhibition, I was able to explore some of the sources and influences of the project.  These include the work of Rosetta Archie.  I remember going to see her amazing assemblage on Beaubien near Grand Boulevard.  Tyree Guyton was also a fan.  He used to go there when he was a student at College of Creative Studies.

I’ve long sensed a connection between the Heidelberg Project and spontaneous and make-shift memorials.  You frequently see these set up in spots where people were killed in automobile accidents.  In the exhibit, I included some of my photos of the memorials in lower Manhattan in 2002.

One series in the early 1990’s involved hundreds of shoes in the street.  On Heidelberg Street, cars would drive over the shoes.  This was a strange sensation.  Once, I was part of a crew who went with the project to a dumpster at a shoe warehouse.  We shoveled out shoes into the back of a pickup truck.  Later, we helped throw some of them back into the street.


Shoes on Heidelberg Street, November 1991

In 2011, Mr. Guyton brought back the shoe collection for an installation called Street Folk for Art Detroit X.

February March 2011 046too

The “Street Folk” installation, 2011.

There’s a history of using shoes as symbols of gun violence and to protest against gun violence.  It was a nationwide movement here in the United States.  This seemed to reach its peak in the 1990’s.  Yet I’ve found other examples of this in the 2000’s.

Also, the Heidelberg Project always seemed to be sympathetic toward the homeless people.  Using the cast-off and disregarded houses and objects had a connection with the cast-off and disregarded people.

Placing art onto abandoned houses calls attention to them.  Sometimes, it was done as a form of direct action.  They wanted a dangerous house to be torn down.  Houses were being used for criminal activity.  When they were turned into art houses, the crime would usually move somewhere else.  They didn’t want the attention.

Now, many houses that they didn’t want torn down have been torn down and/or torched.

The Heidelberg Project has always had an activist side to it.  This seems less true now, yet this may not be so.


On the Rooftop, circa 1990


Back in the 1990’s, I wrote ten or twelve statements and manifestos in support of the project.  Some were handwritten, while others were done on a manual typewriter.  I’d photocopy them and distribute them.  I also signed and helped to fact-check a long statement of support from the Surrealist movement.

Writing these blog posts brings me back to those days, some twenty or twenty-five years ago.

The Heidelberg Project continues and I wish them well.  It’s often attacked, smeared and misunderstood.  This is a good place to find out the latest news about it:

It’s very difficult to keep something like this going.  The city government seems hostile or, at best, ambivalent toward the project.  It’s a major tourist attraction but maybe “it sends the wrong message.”

I’ll keep watching and keep visiting.


The Fun House, shortly before it was destroyed, 1991.





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