Delaney Orewiler, Arts Reporter
May 4, 2021
The Bee Project is an outdoor community art project, set up in two locations, created by Grant Wood Printmaking Fellow Elena Smyrniotis. The project stresses the importance of pollinators.
If one were to drive past 3rd Street in Cedar Rapids, they would find large, hexagonal, bright-yellow structures covered in giant bees. Rather than the real pollinators, however, these bees are constructed out of plastic, metal, and other recyclable materials.
The art installation is called The Bee Project, created by current Grant Wood Fellow Elena Smyrniotis.
The project is located in two places in Cedar Rapids. One structure can be found at 3rd Street until the end of May, and another at the Indian Creek Nature Center until July 11. After that, both structures will be moved to the Waterloo Museum of Art area.
The hexagonal, carbon steel mesh structures that make up the installation were painted yellow by Smyrniotis to resemble a beehive. She said the formations serve to emphasize the importance of pollinators, and have involved the entire community by giving them an opportunity to create their own bees and add them to the hive. The only requirement for the bees? They have to be made out of recyclable materials that aren’t paper or cardboard.
“I wanted to use objects that we usually throw away and consider trash or waste,” Smyrniotis said. “I want people to rethink and try to make beautiful art from the trash, and to think of waste differently.”
Smyrniotis’ goal with this project was threefold — to make people rethink uses for their recyclable waste, to increase awareness about pollinators, and to bring the community together.
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The project began when Smyrniotis decided to put her love of community and honey together. The artist said she hopes it ends with constructed bees from all over the community completely covering the carbon steel mesh.
“This is a community art project, it’s supposed to bring the community together, and there is still an opportunity to keep building the bees and continue attaching them,” Smyrniotis said. “My dream is that when you look at the structure, you don’t see any yellow at all. Like when you see a real beehive, you don’t see anything, just bees crawling everywhere.”
The Bee Project was just a concept in the beginning, constructed only in Smyrniotis’ mind. She’d originally considered wrapping chicken wire around a structure due to lack of funds for her idea, but — through her sponsors the Grant Wood Art Colony, the UI Office of Community Engagement, the Indian Creek Nature Center, and the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District — she was able to commission Storm Steel in Cedar Rapids to create the hexagonal structures.
Once those structures were created, Smyrniotis sent videos on the importance of pollinators and the process of creating a bee for The Bee Project to schools in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. The videos were shown in art classes, and students could learn about and create their own bees.
Smyrniotis said the best part about the project is that it’s a conversation open to all. To demonstrate this, she recalled visiting her exhibit and finding another queen bee placed above her own, but this one had a crown. According to Smyrniotis, The Bee Project allows communication through placement and individual creativity regarding the bees.
“This project is supposed to bring a wide variety of members from the community together and create a conversation,” Smyrniotis said. “It involves everyone, including school children, adults of any age, families, cousins, artists, neighbors and anyone else interested in participating.”
Those who are interested in getting involved in this community art project can find instructions on how to make their own bees at The Bee Project’s website. Once the bees are completed, participants can travel to the exhibit, where there will be zip ties to aid in attaching the bees.
Smyrniotis stressed that all are welcome to participate, regardless of age.
“The bees truly give people a way to express themselves while bringing attention to the importance of pollinators,” she said. “In the end, this project is a way of ensuring a beautiful and bountiful Earth.”