Springtime in Athens, Ga., looks good in pictures, but wading through the cosmic yellow-green, allergy-inducing dust can be exhausting. I was feeling the moody effects of oak, pecan and sycamore pollens in the medium-high range (according to Pollen.com), as well as the usual end-of-semester over-extension, when I spoke with Erin of the Beehive Design Collective. Her enthusiasm about heading out for the final leg of their Gulf Coast Spring Tour was the perfect antidote to my condition, and brought me back to life.
The main Beehive is based in rural, eastern (Machias) Maine, with satellites and “autonomous pollinators” throughout the Americas in places like Asheville, NC, Mexico, and Colombia. Three of the Bees (Erin, Sam and Zeph), arrived in Athens on Thursday, May 5, 2011, to display their latest narrative illustration and present a visual workshop with storytelling called, “The True Cost of Coal.” This graphics campaign took two years to create and was developed through research that includes first-hand story-sharing, a methodology to which the Beehive is committed. This campaign “explores the complex story of mountaintop removal coal mining and the broader impacts of coal in Appalachia and beyond,” according to their website.
The Beehive Design Collective epitomizes a grassroots movement. Over the past 10+ years, the Bees have explored issues including biotechnology, food and agriculture, corporate globalization, and colonialism by deconstructing complex geopolitical issues and presenting them through creative, interactive programs. Since it began with their first stone mosaic mural in 2000 with a mission to educate by “creating collaborative, anti-copyright images that can be used as educational and organizing tools,” the collective has presented a cross-pollinated form of activism, art, education and performance in more than 300 locations; distributed more than 75,000 posters; and consistently raises more than 90% of their budget by donations, which they attribute to “the desperate need for more healthy and visual representation of complex and overwhelming issues our society is facing.” The Bees travel with a few murals (each about 8' x 16') that have been taken from the original graphite and ink works and burned onto fabric made from recycled plastic bottles.
The Bees work hard and bring a positive spirit of adventure to all their efforts. "NEVER BORING!" is their motto. This-Way-Out was the final stop on their southern United States tour. They shared "The True Cost of Coal," their latest design and research information with murals and posters all day in the AHA! gallery space. Then T-W-O hosted a bike-in presentation (a concept the Bees loved) in the parking lot of Ben’s Bikes where Erin and Zeph presented their inspired, interactive picture-lecture on coal power, climate change and sustainability. These Bees know what they're talking about. The event lasted an hour or so and their uncommon blend of focus, sincerity, and optimism spread over the audience of about 50 Athenians with similar interests.
The event coincided with Cinco de Mayo (and Erin Bee's birthday), so you can imagine what happened next.