Beehive Collective Causes Buzz on Campus, Students Learn “The True Cost of Coal”

Annie McKay

Emily Bee, a member of the Beehive Collective, visited Colgate University as part of the Art & Art History lecture series last Wednesday, October 16. She brought along one of the collective’s primary projects, a mural titled “The True Cost of Coal,” that is currently on display in Little Hall.

The Beehive Collective is a group of artists based out of Machias, Maine and creates posters and murals for educational purposes. Their mission statement, according to their official website (www.behivecollective.org), is “to cross-pollinate the grassroots, by creating collaborative, anti-copyright images that can be used as educational and organizing tools.” Bee emphasized the fact that their work is as interdisciplinary as possible. She said it is important to the Beehive Collective that their work gets out of the gallery and into the world. The works that the group creates are reproduced en masse to reach as many people as possible. The more people the collective can reach through storytelling, educational workshops, schools, community centers, etc., the better.

Specifically, the Beehive Collective’s work merges political and environmental issues with art in a way that is more accessible. The mural that Bee brought to Colgate, “The True Cost of Coal,” was inspired by a trip that nine members made to Appalachia to look at mountaintop removal, a process of extracting coal by blasting the tops of mountains that has numerous negative environmental and health consequences. The difficulty in the project was the process of taking everything they learned and translating it back into an artistic piece.

The Beehive Collective gathered information and opinions from politicians and environmentalists and gathered together graphs and charts to get a sense of the information they needed to convey. “The True Cost of Coal” uses Appalachia as a case study for mountaintop removal as a practice. The mural, read left to right, depicts five sections: the story of the land, industrialization, mountain top removal and the system, resistance and, finally, regeneration. When folding the poster version of the work together, the story of the land and regeneration create a new image, leaving the work with an overall sense of hope.

“It is important to look at stories from the ancient past of people who knew how to live in a sustainable way on a finite planet,” Bee said. “How do we engage our memory? How do we learn some of the lessons from people who know how to live in a way that actually makes sense for our planet, instead of just using high-tech solutions?”

An audience member asked a question regarding the delicate line between fiction and non-fiction that the Beehive Collective seem to play with in their work. They take these facts and figures, but depict them through a large-scale artistic piece with no reference to specific statistics. Bee said that the facts and figures are relatively less important when looking at the big picture. The Beehive Collective’s goal is to convey these political and environmental ideas through art in a way that is educational. The group’s interdisciplinary approach in their work is a complicated yet fascinating way to convey a message.

   Contact Annie McKay at [email protected]