Iconic Detroit Art Park Endures 8th Fire In 8 Months

Tyree Guyton, creator of the Heidelberg Project, finds a toy while walking through the burned remains of the Obstruction of J
Tyree Guyton, creator of the Heidelberg Project, finds a toy while walking through the burned remains of the Obstruction of Justice House in Detroit, Friday May 3, 2013. The OJ House, one of the houses that make up the Heidelberg Project outdoor art installation, was destroyed by fire early Friday morning. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

In eight months, eight fires have burned at a beloved art park in Detroit, leaving much of it destroyed. But Heidlelberg Project founders are determined to keep moving forward.

The Clock House, one of the homes on the city's east side that was turned into a large-scale installation by artist Tyree Guyton as part of the Heidleberg endeavor, was destroyed by a fire Sunday night.


According to the Detroit News, firefighters responded to the scene on Elba Place, a block over from Heidelberg Street, shortly before 11 p.m., but were too late to save the Clock House from possible arson.

The last fire was on Thanksgiving, destroying "The War Room." At the time, security guards saw a man in dark clothing running away from the scene, according to Heidelberg Project Executive Director Jenenne Whitfield, but no one was apprehended.

Three other houses have been destroyed by fires, leaving three standing. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) announced last week they are offering a $5,000 reward for a tip that leads to the person responsible for the fires.

"Our work is not about tangible 'things,' it is about the Power of the Human Spirit," the Heidelberg Project organization said after the fire that leveled the "Obstruction of Justice" house in early November. "We recognize that there is a fire in you and we are here not to extinguish it, but to offer you a better reason to fuel it. Though you have tried, you cannot destroy the Heidelberg Project; it’s bigger than all of us now. Instead, we invite you to join our family in creating a better neighborhood, a better Detroit, if not for anyone else than for yourself. As Tyree [Guyton] has said, 'If you believe, you can change it…' We believe."

According to MLive, the ATF is working the case with the Detroit Arson Department and the U.S. Department of Justice. AT Special Agent Donald Dawkins told the news site after the Nov. 28 fire that they will continue to interview individuals, however, there are no specific suspects and the investigation is still "fluid."

In light of the fires, the Heidelberg Project launched an "Art from the Ashes" campaign on the Indiegogo crowdfunding site, hoping to secure $50,000 for a nightly patrol (which is currently in place but with limited funds), improved lighting and surveillance cameras.

In its early days, the Heidelberg Project, started in 1986, was criticized by city administration and derided by some for its outlandish appearance. But it withstood two demolitions in the 1990s and now shows up on most lists of must-see Detroit attractions. The organization also organizes arts education programming for children, young adults and emerging artists.

The Heidelberg Project fires are of particular concern for art lovers in Detroit, where the city's other high-profile art institution is facing an entirely different kind of attack. The city's bankruptcy may force changes to the Detroit Institute of Arts, with selling some of its collection still a possibility.

Despite its apparent uncertain future in Detroit, art is valued in the city, and perseverance is a requirement. On Twitter Monday morning, the Heidelberg Project made it clear that the they will not be stopped by destruction, and will instead continue to rebuild:



The Heidelberg Project In Detroit