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Art is transformation. Pigments spread across a canvas, molten glass bent, stretched, and cooled, a neighborhood in an ailing city rearranged. Too often, art is viewed like fancy wine: lofty and inaccessible. When you stand on Heidelberg Street, nothing could be more accessible than the art before you. The hallmark of this transformation is that you, the viewer, are actually a participant. The Heidelberg Project is not a gallery behind walls, it is a living neighborhood and that means participation is varied.
"You’re talking about introducing something new to the neighbors. I had a chance to go to art school, a lot of my neighbors didn’t go to art school, a lot of my nieghbors dont go to museums, so it was new to them. I had to learn to be patient. And so it took time, time - time is the key. Time is the key to having people change their opinion and start understanding something different. It was different," says Tyree Guyton, the project's creator.
Not all parties have wanted to participate, most notably the City of Detroit.
The Heidelberg Project has survived a demolition of four houses in 1991 by Mayor Coleman Young and another demolition of three houses in 1999 by Mayor Dennis Archer. Guyton persevered. Just this year, two fires in May and October first damaged and then completely destroyed "O.J. House." Guyton persevered. And despite its past reluctance, Detroit has a similarly blotted history. Detroit has sustained through foreign occupation, a fire that leveled the city in 1805, three race riots, the US decline in manufacturing and, most recently, a bankruptcy filing. The Heidelberg Project is a microcosm for this strange city that refuses to quit.
The artifact subscribers receive for this story is truly unique. Jaunt worked with the Heidelberg Project to create a new art installation on Heidelberg Street. We used shoes because of their prevalence in the project and their symbolic value of giving Jaunt subscribers one foot on Heidelberg Street. For Guyton, shoes have special significance:
Shoes, the journey. The journey of life - where are we going in this life? Its also a tool - its a cushion - it helps us to go from point A to point B. And then, as I look back and remember, there was a time when I had shoes and my shoes had holes in them and I said 'When I grow up, I’m gonna have a lot of shoes.’ So I have a shoe fetish. Its my way to talk about the past and to help people to visualize the future, using shoes.
First, we installed two identical sections of chainlink fence on the north and south sides of Heidelberg Street, facing one another. We then called for shoes to be donated and received all manners of style and size. One shoe was painted colorfully and put in the Jaunt box for shipment. Its pair was painted white and installed on the northern section of fence. This symbolizes the shoe being a blank slate, a tabula rasa, that is waiting to be claimed. It is a ghost lacking life.
Receiving this artifact is participation in our art installation. The recipient is asked to do the following:
1. Come visit the Heidelberg Project and find their matching pair.
2. Give it life and personality. Paint it, draw on it, write your name on it or your favorite quote. Either bring materials to enable you to do this or visit during the Heidelberg Project's business hours to use their art materials. Materials can be found inside "Numbers House," at 3600 Heidelberg St, Detroit, MI 48207 (50 ft. from the installation).
3. Bring a piece of yourself. The Heidelberg Project is an amalgamation of objects from around Detroit and the world. We want to add yours. Bring something that represents you or something important to you that you can leave in the installation forever.
4. Vote with your feet. Once you have personalized the formerly bland white shoe, take it from the northern fence you found it on and move it across the street to the opposing fence. Leave the item you brought at this southern fence as well.
As recipients of the shoes begin to visit the project, this art installation will begin to transform. The bland northern fence will begin to fade while the currently forlorn southern fence will come to life with color and vibrancy.