What’s the Buzz on the Street? 50,000 Hand-Painted Honeybees.

Artist Matthew Willey is leaving his mark all around the world—making sure everyone knows about this pollinator’s plight.

October 07, 2016

Willey painted a wave of bees at Estes Hills Elementary School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Matthew Wille

For honeybees, community is everything (the term “hive mind” exists for a reason). But it took only one little bee to inspire artist Matthew Willey to act on the species’ behalf. After watching a sickly insect fly into his apartment and die, the artist did some research and learned that when honeybees feel unwell, they isolate themselves—dying alone to protect their kin.

He also learned that this altruistic behavior is happening with increasing frequency. Habitat loss, pesticides, and disease are all taking serious tolls on these important pollinators; preliminary results of a survey showed that U.S. beekeepers lost 44 percent of their colonies between April 2015 and March 2016, one of the highest loss rates in recent years.

Matthew Willey

Moved, Willey committed to raise awareness for the tiny honeybee’s big problems by hand painting a cool 50,000 of them in 100 murals around the world. His project, “The Good of the Hive,” aims at 50,000 because that’s the typical number of bees in a thriving hive.

Healthy hives mean healthy people, too. According to the U.S. Forest Service, bees pollinate approximately 75 percent of our fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Needless to say, our plates would look a lot different without bees in the picture.

But to Willey, the murals represent more than that. Both bees and humans need strong communities to function properly, and he hopes his paintings will foster conversations on the street and strengthen the bonds between the species for the good of all. And, to be sure, honeybees could use the buzz marketing.

A mural on the side of the Harold P. Curtis Honey Co. in LaBelle, Florida

Matthew Willey

Burt's Bees invited Willey to add some bees to its headquarters in Durham, North Carolina.

Matthew Willey


onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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