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NY artist paints 50,000 bees to raise awareness to dying population

Posted August 19
Updated August 24

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— A swarm of support. That is what Matthew Willey, a New York artist, is trying to spread across the country.

Willey recently painted a mural on the side of the Carrboro fire station - one of the many murals he hopes will help find a solution to the dwindling bee population.

"I'm painting 50,000 honey bees individually, one by one," he said.

According to Willey, 50,000 bees is the number needed for a healthy hive.

"I think the hardest part is painting something people can connect to," Willey said. "The fire station is such a hive. I love the metaphor of painting on the wall because it's really about this group of people, the kind that live together a lot of the time, doing their job, they all have their job, but they are also thinking collectively about the community."

Willey also painted bees on the side of Estes Elementary in Chapel Hill and the Burt's Bees headquarters in Durham.

The paintings started when a friend pointed out a blank wall on a honey store in rural Florida.

"So, I called them up and said, 'Would you be interested in a mural?' And they said, 'Yes, but we have no money and murals are illegal in this town."

They were able to get the law changed, and now Willey wants to change perceptions people have about bees.

"I had an experience with a bee seven years ago where one landed on the floor of my studio in Manhattan. I just stopped. And for some reason sat down on the floor and watched this bee," he said.

He learned about the decline in bee populations around the world.

"I found out that a lot of people everywhere did not know there was this massive die-off with the bees. I decided put up or shut up, and I took the leap," Willey said.

While Willey is not sure how long the project will last, or exactly how many murals it will take to paint all 50,000 bees, he hopes that his paintings will inspire others to take action and correct the problems in our bee communities.

"The goal is when I'm done painting the 50,000th bee we will have an awareness of what's going on with the honey bee and other pollinators," he said.

To donate visit The Good of the Hive website.

3 Comments

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  • Aiden Audric Aug 25, 2:52 p.m.
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    The general population has a hard time with science. When they are told, "bees pollinate our crops," it's a simpler way of saying, "bees are responsible for a portion of pollination, but some plants are self-pollinating, and most staple crops - like corn and wheat - are wind pollinated and bees aren't needed. For others, like almonds, bees are responsible for a large portion of pollinating."

    So, with the simple "bees pollinate", the average person thinks that bees do 100% of the pollinating for any given plant, when it's not the case.

    I agree, too - the artistry is awesome. Maybe part of "raising awareness" will spur people to learn more about the real science behind pollination. Not going to hold my breath, though...

  • Clif Bardwell Aug 25, 1:21 p.m.
    user avatar

    I admire the artistry, but one must remember two things...

    1. Honey bees are not native to either North America nor South America.

    2. Honey bees are neither the only pollinator, nor the exclusive pollinator, to any plants.

  • Haley Sessoms Aug 25, 9:33 a.m.
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    Bee lives matter