September 26, 2019

Heidelberg Project fire @ Hyperallergic

DETROIT — One of Detroit’s many claims to fame in the popular imagination is the tendency among the citizenry to set things on fire. Bolstered by the special intensity of Devil’s Night fires — on the wane in recent years, thanks to citywide efforts — Detroit still leads the nation in suspicious fires per 1,000 residents by a wide margin, according to this 2015 Detroit News article. But few cultural sites can claim as many trials by fire as iconic outsider art installation the Heidelberg Project, which suffered the loss of its “You House” this week to a mysterious fire.

This is only the most recent in a long-running string of arsons that have reduced a huge portion of the Heidelberg Project to charred foundations — and by extension, a good number of the formerly derelict houses on and adjacent to the two-block stretch of Heidelberg Street, where the project is situated on Detroit’s near-East side. Twelve fires hit the open-air art project by creator Tyree Guyton, which has evolved on his home street over three decades. The highest-profile arsons started in 2012, picking up steam through 2015 and causing irreconcilable damage to pieces of the Heidelberg Project, including the Soul House, the Party Animal House, and others. After that, things quieted down for awhile on the Heidelberg front, likely due in part to the installation of a security system, and in 2016, Guyton began to turn his thoughts to dismantling his self-made monument, rather than continuing to build it.

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