Primarily a painter and sculptor, Detroiter Tyree Guyton has also been described as an urban environmental artist. He has waged a personal war on urban blight on the city’s east side, transforming his neighborhood into a living indoor/outdoor art gallery. Through his art, Tyree has drawn attention to the plight of Detroit’s forgotten neighborhoods and spurred discussion and action. His Heidelberg Project is an open-air art environment in the heart of the community. Tyree uses everyday, discarded objects to create a two-block area full of color, symbolism, and intrigue. Now in its 25th year, the Heidelberg Project is recognized around the world as a demonstration of the power of creativity to transform lives. It attracts an estimated 50,000 passers-by a year and helps pump $3.4 million annually, according to a recent study by the Center of Creative Community Development.
Tyree also 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 Doctorate of Fine Art. His work is featured in the Detroit Institute of Arts, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, and the Studio Museum of Harlem among others, and has earned him over 15 awards, locally and nationally.
BMN: When and how did you know you wanted to be an artist?
TYREE: My grandfather gave me a paintbrush at the age of 9 and it was like my hand was on fire.
BMN: Where did the original inspiration for the Heidelberg Project come from?
TYREE: Seeing my neighborhood take on changes for the worse became the pretext for creating the Heidelberg Project. I had a vision from the Master Creator.
BMN: Now that twenty five years have passed, what is your broad vision for the future of the project?
TYREE: I will continue to let the Heidelberg Project speak to me and guide me but from an organizational standpoint, I see the Heidelberg Project becoming an institution of higher learning in the heart of the Ghetto and bringing a whole new meaning to the term “Ghetto”
BMN: Not everyone sees art in the same way. As an artist who has faced controversy, what advice do you have for young people on coping with criticism?
TYREE: It’s very important to stick to your guns and follow your dream, but also to understand that criticism and sometimes controversy is good because it helps to mold and shape you into what you need to be.
BMN: What advice do you have for Michigan kids who dream of careers as artists?
TYREE: It’s important to believe in yourself. You must see it and then you must become it.
BMN: What other places would you tell a visitor to the city of Detroit that they must see or experience?
TYREE: The African American Bead Museum, Can Hand Art Works, Motown Museum, MOCAD, Belle Isle. In other words, come, see and experience what Detroit has to offer.
BMN: Michigan is widely known for the many foods & beverages we produce. What are some of your favorite tastes of Michigan?
TYREE: Better Made chips, Faygo, coneys, Louisiana Creole and all the ethnic flavors of Hamtramck
BMN: You might be missing some of those tastes soon, as you’re about to represent Detroit abroad in Basel, Switzerland doing a prestigious, one-year residency at the Laurenz House. What will that entail?
TYREE: I will work on the written portion of my dissertation. Experience, learn, and build bridges as an art ambassador for the city of Detroit.
BMN: What are your thoughts on the Buy Michigan Now campaign, and the idea of supporting local businesses?
TYREE: I am huge fan of buying local and have also made this my practice. I would encourage others to do the same.
BMN: Finally, what Shout Out do you have for your friends and fans throughout Michigan?
TYREE: Get ready, the best is yet to come for the city of Detroit!!