Friday, November 13, 2015

Heidelberg Project

I read about Heidelberg Project in The Chronicle of Philanthropy a few years ago.

It was surreal to now see the place in person.

“It looks so much different from the last time I was here,” Tammy, our host, lamented. “More arson has changed it.

I didn't say much as I took in the colorful sights: polka dot painted houses, faces painted on the squares of sidewalk, clocks painted on plywood and nailed to trees and poles.

It was haunting to see piles of shoes, dolls, even a prosthetic leg all cast aside and transformed into art exhibits. This trash-transformed-to-art reminded me of the way society throws away people when they don't look or act the way they are expected to. Unlike these pieces, so many people, potential bubbling under the surface, are left without an opportunity to transform. It's a painful, convicting thought.

The cool wind in the crisp, sunny morning added to the haunting effect of the neighborhood.

About two weeks after our visit, Cadence's school hosted Book Character Day to raise money for veterans to participate in the Honor Flight Program. We were deciding at the last minute what character she would be.

“I could be Heidelberg Project,” Cadence declared.

“Tell me what you have in mind,” I said.

“Well, I could wear my tie dyed shirt cause artists wear tie dye.”

She listed the rest of her costume. I was impressed. She's quick on her toes. And we had everything she needed to be an artist.

Cadence gave me my story.

Tammy's husband brought his camera and explored on his own. Tammy and I were left to translate everything we saw to my eight-year-old.

“Did the bad people who started the fires go to jail?”

“No, they didn't. They were never caught,” Tammy explained.

We discussed how communities break down and distrust builds between the people in the neighborhoods and the police officers, who are helpers.

It was an uncomfortable topic to share with my child, but I don't shy away from difficult topics.

“I know I want to blog about this experience, but I don't know what to say yet. I'm going to have to let the experience settle in for awhile,” I told Tammy.

I actually did know what I could write about, but I wasn't sure I was ready to put it into words. What I was feeling that day, as we walked around the few blocks of Heidelberg Project, was out of my comfort zone. I didn't know if my feelings of not feeling safe were real or imagined. I had to confront why it was that my safety should be anymore important than someone else's. I also felt uncomfortable feeling like a tourist witnessing other people's real life--one so vastly different from my own. All of this rattled around in my head. I couldn't articulate it to Tammy and wasn't sure if I wanted to.

Cadence had more questions. We answered as thoughtfully as we could and kept walking.

We made our way to a playground. Cadence climbed on a jungle gym. I relaxed from the anxiety of my thoughts and contemplations. I saw a bar and decided to take a crack at repeating my trapeze performance. Cadence captured my efforts with my camera.

The cold air was making my ears ache. We watched the clock and began to make our way back to the car. We visited the gift shop before we returned to the car. Inside the unheated building, there were photograph prints, books, and other art pieces available for purchase. Cadence found the children's book that told the story of Heidelberg Project, Magic Trash by J.H. Shapiro. We bought it and two pins for our travel pin collections.

This place and the story that was distilled for young readers made an impression on her. I asked her if I could interview her for my blog. Our conversation is below:

Tell me what you saw at Heidelberg Project.

I saw a lot of leftover stuff from when people lived at the houses.

How were these things displayed?

There was like um, okay um, I saw like sections of signs and cool stuff.

Help our readers understand what you mean by leftover stuff:

Well, there was bad people destroyed and rioted their neighborhood and destroyed the houses and this artist whose name is Tyree Guyton was a person who collected all the junk that people have left and turned it into art. His Grandpa lived on the block and when Tyree was a little boy his grandpa loved to paint. In fact, Tyree got to help and learn how to paint with his grandpa. Tyree and his grandpa painted the house with polka dots.

And that began to transform the neighborhood from a sad, rundown memory to an art exhibit, right?


What inspired you to choose this book as your book character costume?

Well, if you would actually want to know. It first started out when I went there and I went to my room and I realized it was bring your favorite book character costume day and I couldn't realize what I was going to wear and then I was thinking that I could maybe be Tyree. So then I looked through all my clothes and picked out a shirt and pants that didn't match. But it was already arty, so then I went to my mom and said, “Do you think this looks good?” and she said it looked awesome, so I picked out that one and then my mom was like do you want to wear a bandana and as soon as I heard that I was like Kabam! Of course I want to.

Then your outfit was complete! I was impressed when you added a paintbrush which inspired me to make a card board palette to add to your costume.

What feelings did you have at Heidelberg Project?

I just thought it was cool because I got to see how much junk people left and get it turned into a masterpiece.

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers about our visit?

Yes, yes I do. Well, it was located in Detroit and I was staying with my (Honorary) Aunt Tammy and her family. And also I would like to tell you guys if you guys are reading this thanks to all of you who support my mommy's writing and her blog posts. Thanks for everything you do for my mom. 

(This was completely unsolicited.)


  1. Cool! I love that as I'm reading CJ's interview I can hear her saying those things to you. It's so her. :). What great experiences you're giving her.

  2. You have inspired me to see H.P. - totally unaware of it. Thanks!

  3. The Heidelberg Project was one of the service projects God the ELCA National Youth Gathering thus past summer in Detroit. So cool!

  4. Wow! That is all I can say. Well, I SLSO live her photos of you and your interview of her. This trip and this post was a beautiful dance by you both.

  5. I can already tell what a unique and truly gifted girl Cadence is. I know that wasn't the purpose of your blog but I'm a mom of two grown daughters and I want Cadence to know that. I love her unscripted summary of the Heidelberg house. Thanks for sharing a story that isn't necessarily beautiful but it's made beautiful by the people who created it and the people who visit and tell their story.