A Hive That Spans the Globe: Matthew Willey’s The Good of the Hive Initiative

Matthew Willey is a creative spirit who has been painting murals for 24 years and who is also a scenic artist, screenplay writer, designer, and canvas painter. He also co-founded an educational company that works to increase the accessibility of Homer’s Odyssey and Greek Mythology in schools. His current mural project called The Good of the Hive Initiative is designed to bring awareness to the global plight of bees and to spark conversation and interpersonal connection surrounding this topic with the large bee artworks he’s creating around the world. His goal is to paint as many honeybees as it typically takes to make up a working hive: 50,000. More information on the dangers honeybees face is offered at the end of this post. Wiley’s work has been featured in The Home & Garden Section of the New York Times, Veranda Magazine, and Interior Design Magazine, among other publications.

The Good of the Hive

The Good of the Hive site explains that the beehive imagery is also being used as a metaphor for human communities—just as bees think “collectively “ and have linked immune systems, so do humans depend on their connections to others to survive. They say that “[w]hen we connect, we thrive,” and that Willey’s “own path as an artist was more aligned to its truth when it was being channeled toward connection.” This is Colossal shares that Willey has completed seven murals in this series so far (in August of 2016), and that he maintains careful notes on the amount of bees he’s painted.

Mural at Burt’s Bees

One of Willey’s murals is a large piece at the Burt’s Bees headquarters in the Hill Building on the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, NC. Burt’s Bees creates and sells natural personal care products, and they host an annual Culture Day to encourage and promote community outreach. 400 of their employees spent one of these Culture Days painting a mural with Willey.

Mural at Estes Hills Elementary School

Dan Schnitzer, the Sustainability Coordinator at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, invited Willey to create a honeybee mural at Estes Hills Elementary School. On Humans and Nature, they were both interviewed by Joe Phillips, who writes with Dharma On The Farm and is the Urban Farm Coordinator at Near North Montessori in Chicago. In the interview, Schnitzer credits Willey’s mural project as the jumping off point for several other initiates in the school system, such as bee keeping and pollinator education pilot programs and native pollinator gardens, which offer the added bonus of reducing landscaping maintenance work for the grounds staff. Around 1,000 bees were found dead at their high school hive, and the chief local apiarist confirmed that the bees lying outside the hive showed the deaths to be chemically caused.

Willey explains in the interview that while researching bees, he learned about a bee behavior called altruistic suicide; a sick bee leaves the hive to die—for “the good of the hive,” hence the name of the mural project. He also discusses how painting the mural is a communal and interactive experience for him, in which people share bee stories and look at honeybees, and the fear they sometimes evoke, in a new light. In his own words:

“I hope to draw everybody in and have some kind of renewed relationship to this creature. It’s taken me ten times as long to paint these murals because the mission is to talk to everybody. I give them a card and I talk to them. That’s one of the goals of this mission: not to just put up a pretty picture and move on.”

Bees in Danger

If you’re unfamiliar with the plight of bees, here is some more information: a decline in the natural areas where bees can forage, as well as continuing pesticide use, harms bee populations. This results in less nutritious food and less biodiversity on earth. The Saving America’s Pollinators Act shares the warning that, “current losses of honey bee colonies are too high to confidently ensure the United States will be able to meet the pollination demands for agricultural crops.”

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service committed to fighting CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) with US $3 million, “in technical and financial assistance for interested farmers and ranchers to help improve the health of bees, which play an important role in crop production.” For farmers who are concerned about the bees, Scott Black, Executive Director of The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, makes this recommendation:

“Whether you are a small or large farmer, you can conserve or restore natural or semi-natural areas within croplands, add diverse floral and nesting resources, and eliminate or use less (and more targeted) insecticides.”

Friends of the Earth shared in 2015 that Lowe’s announced a commitment to phase out neonicotinoid pesticides, which are “a leading contributor to global bee declines.”  Take Part says that The Home Depot, which enacted a pesticide transparency campaign in 2014, says it “has stopped treating 80 percent of its garden plants with neonics, as they are called, and will phase out pretreated plants altogether by 2018.”

The Honey Bee Health Coalition, comprised of over 30 organizations, is an excellent bee information resource. They have created a Bee Healthy Roadmap. The Food Tank has delivered millions of signatures to the EPA and Whitehouse on behalf of pollinators and against pesticides. The Friends of the Earth site currently hosts a petition to Bayer, a leading producer of neonics.

Willey has also partnered with an organization called BEe Healing which is a no-treatment beekeeping operation in the Appalachian Mountains, run by Lady Spirit Moon (NC, MH, Certified Beekeeper, Certified Apitherapist, and Former Ambassador for the Center for Honeybee Research). Apitherapy is the medicinal use of bee products. Willey is painting an api-therapeutic ‘Bee-Bed” for them in which, according to The Good of the Hive Facebook page, one can “[c]limb in and absorb the vibration, scent and sound of an actual honeybee hive.” The unpainted Bee Bed is pictured to the left of Willey below.

You can also follow The Good of The Hive on Twitter and Instagram.

Julia Travers

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