The students at Our Redeemer Lutheran School used their imagination to turn trash into treasure earlier this semester, and learned about art history and the power of creativity along the way.
It started when Ema Johnson, the art teacher at ORLS, wanted to devote more time to learning about black artists during Black History Month.
“I wanted to teach art history, but also the artistic experience and diversity,” she said.
She focused on a few different artists, but was “fascinated” by Tyree Guyton and his Heidelberg Project, an artistic movement in Detroit that started almost 30 years ago.
Guyton, a Detroit native, returned to his neighborhood on Heidelberg Street in 1986 to find it damaged by poverty and crime. His grandfather inspired him to make a difference in the neighborhood by picking up a paintbrush. Guyton used paint and items found along the street to rejuvenate houses, sidewalks, and vacant lots.
“As an artist I believe that my job is to find solutions,” Guyton said in a letter to Johnson’s class. “When I returned to my childhood neighborhood and saw that things had changed, I saw it as an opportunity to use imagination as a tool to create something new and different.”
Back in Johnson’s class, students in kindergarten through sixth grade were given recyclable and trashed materials to create their own new and different items.
“I asked them, ‘What would you do if you found your neighborhood like that?’ I really just left the creativity up to them,” Johnson said. The kids created miniature sculptures out of the available items.
“The children loved it,” Johnson said. “Our message in class was how to use creativity to make your life better. It’s a message of kindness.”
Jenenne Whitfield, Guyton’s wife and the executive director of the Heidelberg Project, said she is “ecstatic and floored” at the lengths the project’s inspiration has traveled.
“Our greatest accomplishment of the project is reaching kids all over the world,” she said. “It’s such an authentic project that I feel kids are drawn to it.”
The Heidelberg Project’s vision extends past turning trash into treasure, but encompasses a feeling of hope and imagination that spans geographical boundaries.
“Sometimes items, people and even neighborhoods can be discarded,” Guyton said. “If you can pick these things up, pick people up, brush them off and add color, it is possible to breathe new life into an area that would otherwise be forgotten.”