Jenenne Whitfield of Detroit’s Heidelberg Project stepping down

After 28 years, she's now heading to the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore — but will still work with Tyree Guyton

click to enlarge Jenenne Whitfield of the Heidelberg Project speaks at a TEDx Talk.
Jenenne Whitfield of the Heidelberg Project speaks at a TEDx Talk.

Jenenne Whitfield, the president and CEO and Detroit's Heidelberg Project, has stepped down, the arts organization announced Wednesday. She's now headed to the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore to serve as its new director.

But Whitfield, who is also married to Heidelberg Project founder Tyree Guyton, says she will still be involved with the organization.

"I will remain in my role with the HP until September and assist the board and senior staff with the transition," Whitfield wrote in an Instagram post. "Afterwards my hope is to continue to serve on the board and provide support/advice as needed. My friend and life partner, Tyree will continue to be a Detroit anchor by continuing his work in Detroit and both he and I will commute between Baltimore and Detroit. The vision is expanding!!"

She added, "After 28 years, I realize that the time has come to pass the baton."

The Heidelberg Project started in 1986, when Guyton started painting colorful polka dots in his childhood neighborhood in Detroit. That soon ballooned into creating massive, whimsical art installations out of abandoned houses using found objects — earning the ire of city officials, who ordered the project to be demolished twice. Nevertheless, the project continued. Later, in the 2010s, the Heidelberg Project experienced a string of arsons.

Attitudes about the Heidelberg Project have changed. It's now a popular tourist destination, and last year, the City of Detroit publicly recognized the Guyton and the Heidelberg Project with its inaugural Detroit ACE Honors, which celebrates artists and arts patrons who have contributed more than 25 years of service to the local arts and culture scene. Now, the organization is embarking on "Heidelberg 3.0," a sprawling campus with an artist residency program and permanent museum.

"We've elevated this project from a neighborhood art installation driven by one man to an internationally recognized arts organization and a permanent part of Detroit's cultural fabric," Whitfield said in a separate statement. "So much of what we set out to accomplish in creating a sustainable arts community is underway and now is the time for me to take on a fresh challenge."

"Jenenne helped build the Heidelberg Project into a dynamic organization that transformed this neighborhood and the Detroit arts scene," said Roula David, a board member and the vice president of 1xRun, which partnered with the Heidelberg Project in 2017. "The board and staff are well-positioned to continue the Heidelberg Project's work and identify the next leader to build upon this legacy."

Before joining the Heidelberg Project, Whitfield worked in banking. She says she stumbled upon the Heidelberg Project one day, which changed her life. That spirit of serendipity is why she took the opportunity in Baltimore, she says.

"Although this news may come as a shock to my fellow Detroiters and friends afar, it also came as a shock to me, and yet timely," she said on Instagram. "Much like I 'accidently' turned down Heidelberg Street in June 1993, I met a similar fate when someone put my name in the hat to succeed Rebecca Hoffberger, the current director and founder of AVAM."

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About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland “Lee” DeVito is the editor in chief of Detroit Metro Times since 2016. His writing has also been published in Hour Detroit, VICE, In These Times, and New City. He once asked porn star Stormy Daniels to spank him with an issue of Metro Times. She obliged...
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