Tyree Guyton, Jenenne Whitfield – Heidelberg Project: Art as a Social Practice

Lecture date: 2012-03-12

Tyree Guyton and Jenenne Whitfield

Heidelberg Project: Art as a Social Practice

Enabling Lecture Series organised by Theo Spyropoulos

Enabling, Guest Lecturer Series

The lecture will present a 25-year journey of how art and creativity have become a catalyst for revitalization in an urban community. It will further illustrate how the Heidelberg Project has become the driver of a new art movement in Detroit as our city struggles to find its new industry/identity.

Tyree Guyton is an artist born in Detroit in 1955. Primarily a painter and sculptor, Guyton has also been described as an urban environmental artist. He has waged a personal war on urban blight on Detroit’s East Side, transforming his neighbourhood into a living indoor/outdoor art gallery. Through his art, Guyton has drawn attention to the plight of Detroit’s forgotten neighbourhoods and spurred discussion and action.

‘When you come to the Heidelberg Project, I want you to think – really think! My art is a medicine for the community. You can’t heal the land until you heal the minds of the people’, says Guyton.

This iconic colourfully painted polka-dotted neighbourhood, which symbolises society’s diversity, has played a vital role in transforming the visual indignities of poverty and has placed an international spotlight on the area, resulting in dramatic reductions in drug-trafficking, gang violence and crime. Guyton’s vision for Heidelberg is to transform the two-block area into a state-of-the-art cultural village

Guyton exhibits his work extensively throughout the United States and the world. He studied at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and in 2009 was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts. His work is featured in the Detroit Institute of Arts, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the Studio Museum of Harlem, among many others. He has received more than 15 local and national awards.

His work has been featured in major publications, books and television (including the Oprah Winfrey Show) and was the subject of the Emmy award-winning documentary, Come Unto Me, the Faces of Tyree Guyton. More recently, it was the subject of Connecting the Dots, Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project—a 2008 Michigan Notable Book (WSU Press 2007).

Jenenne Whitfield has served as the Executive Director of the critically acclaimed Heidelberg Project for the last 18 years. Under her direction, The Heidelberg Project has expanded its goals to include acquisition and restoration of property in the Heidelberg area, development of an artist-in-residence program and implementation of community art and education programmes.  Her leadership and commitment have enabled the project to extend its reach by participating in joint projects with museums, universities and other educational organisations. Her work has been rewarded by a growing worldwide interest in the message she embraced on that summer 18 years ago when she made a wrong turn on to Heidelberg Street and unknowingly asked the artist, ‘What is all this?’ The answer still resonates.  She left a successful banking career to join the project.

Organizational Awards and achievements received under her leadership include:Michigan Notable Book Award, Connecting the Dots, Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project (2007)Outstanding Community Achievement (2006)Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence (2005)Environmental Design Research Association (2004)Emmy Award Winning Documentary, Come Unto Me, the faces of Tyree Guyton (2000)

In addition to her role as executive director for the Heidelberg Project, Whitfield lectures regularly with  Guyton and also served as Vice Chair, for Create Detroit, an organization inspired by Gov Jennifer Granholm’s Cool Cities Initiative, that connects and supports ideas, events and opportunities to drive cultural and economic vitality in Detroit. Recently, Whitfield worked with Matt Clayson and the Creative Corridor on the Rust Belt to Artist Belt III Conference in Detroit especially to connect young local artists to the programme. She also served as a panellist and interviewer at the April 2011 event.


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