Who is burning the Heidelberg Houses?

Art has to transform something, beyond its own medium and materials. It has to transform a space, even a landscape. Often in doing so, it transforms some minds.

Which is intended, or at least hoped for. But then there are those horrid unintended consequences, the minds you didn’t intend to touch. The sort that see your art and want to burn it to the ground.

The Heidelberg Project in Detroit is probably one of the most important urban art installations ever created, and undoubtedly one of the most engaging, inviting, and uplifting folk art extravaganzas a world could hope for. It’d be welcome, celebrated, and enjoyed anywhere on earth. That it is sited precisely where it’s most needed only makes it that much more valuable.

But it is under attack. Three suspicious fires, all since last May, have utterly destroyed two of the Heidelberg houses; irreplaceable installations called the Obstruction of Justice (OJ) House, and the House of Soul.

Detroit arson investigators are cautious, as of last Tuesday’s destruction of the House of Soul, pointing out that an average of eight vacant dwellings burn in that city per day. They aren’t quite willing to say that Heidelberg is being deliberately targeted. Two burned buildings, in other words, aren’t yet a pattern.

The third burning at Heidelberg, if it comes, will have to go up like a sacrificial offering—a gut-wrenching loss that just maybe, if the stars line up right, might help forestall further loss. It’s a horror it’ll have to come to that, indeed a horror that any of this has happened at all, but them are the facts, and this is the world we live in. A world where people burn up the art that nourishes the rest of us. Where that has to happen in threes before it’s a pattern, before it can be stopped. If it can be stopped.

Art is transformative, and sometimes it’s transformed into ashes. All the better to see it while you can.

About editor, facilitator, decider

Doesn't know much about culture, but knows when it's going to hell in a handbasket.
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