The EMoViTO Concept
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
In 2007 I received a grant from the Creative Work Fund to retrofit a 1963 Airstream into the worlds largest mobile honeybee observation hive. To date there has mostly only been a lot of behind the scenes administrative work like securing the trailer and arranging for the pick-up in Lima, Ohio. The beauty of the grant has been the consistent out pour of people who support the project.
Here is the original grant proposal I wrote with Ross Rubin:
The Honeybee: Our Essential Ally is Extremely Threatened
The continuing destruction of the honeybee population severely threatens the reliability of agriculture and our civilization’s future food security.
“We have lost more than half of the honeybee population of the U.S. over the past twenty-five years,” says Serge Labesque, Fellow and Featured Presenter at the Western Apicultural Society, Instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College, beloved mentor to Napa and Sonoma County beekeepers and my valuable associate.
“Pests and diseases are being spread globally, bee genetic diversity is being lost at an alarming rate, and Africanized honeybees are relentlessly widening their range. These are but a few of the problems our honeybees are facing, and they all are consequences of massive man-induced movements of live bees, whether performed by beekeepers, scientists or others.”
“But there is still hope” continues Labesque. “We can curb the degradation of the honeybees’ environment, but there is real urgency. I am happy to say that there is a small but growing minority of bee-keepers, from large-scale professionals to scientists and hobbyists, who are changing their methods and finding viable solutions to these problems. Rob Keller is one such Apiarist.”
Honeybee pollination adds an estimated $20 billion yearly to American agriculture. According to my additional partner, Eric Mussen, Ph.D., at the University of California, Davis, California’s crops alone depend on honeybees to the effect of $4.4 billion. Other insects may pollinate specific crops, but only the honeybee pollinates so widely and effectively.
Rob Keller: Artist-Apiarist
My abiding interest in the honeybee has resulted in my construction of gallery-sized observation hives for Thomas Korzelious Gallery (NYC) and Catharine Clark Gallery (SF), in addition to other bee-related works I have shown at Andrea Schwartz Gallery (SF), Artistspace (NYC), The Oakland Art Gallery and, twice, at The di Rosa Preserve (to which I also donate works for their yearly auctions). I have had showings at the Napa Valley Museum in 2006 and in 2005 (where I received the Artist’s Choice Award) and, recently, Magnolia Editions awarded me a work grant to produce large-scale digital imagery using living hives outfitted with computer scanners. Not only will the most exciting of these images be displayed in the EMoViTO, visitors will be encouraged to scan scenes from the hive to take home!
As a result of my caretaking 25 colonies of honeybees in the Napa Valley, both Napa and Sonoma County Fairs awarded my bees’ produce 1 Best of Show and 7 Blue Ribbons.
My respect for these insects and for our historic and immensely valuable relationship with them equals my determination to use all of my skills as an artist, communitarian and, yes, apiculturist in effort to communicate to the public how important honeybees and humans are to each other.
The Plan: The EMoViTO—Honeybee Ecology Educator on Wheels
I intend to construct a mobile observation hive, with attending multi-media, educational materials including digital, photographic scanners which students can operate to self-select beautiful, momentary illustrations of honeybee ecology to take home. After retrofitting my 1955 Aljo 15-foot, aluminum, tear-drop-shaped, travel-trailer with interior, plexiglass hivebodies, I will have constructed the world’s largest mobile observation hive. I also envision inexpensive web-cameras mounted to broadcast honeybee comings and goings and hive activities to the recently secured www.EMoViTO.org website.
Serge Labesque (who, when not mentoring beekeepers, does custom design and fabrication at a leading bay area engineering firm) and I have devised means of ensuring the health and safety of both the visitors to the EMoViTO and the honeybees resident within it. The visible comb will be contained behind specially fabricated, plexiglass walls separating the public from the colony itself. Bees will enter and exit the hive through holes in the trailer’s top similar to my past, successful hive installations in gallery spaces. Honeybees create a “beeline” which is very strictly followed by worker-bees. With access granted only at the top of the EMoViTO, no bees will come into physical contact with visitors.
This mobile beehive will travel to schools, museums, counties fairs and every venue where the beauty and importance of the honeybee can be extolled.
My collaborators include Nimbus Arts, a nonprofit public benefit corporation serving children and the community and the Arts Council of Napa Valley, a support and service agency for the arts.
Nimbus Arts’ ongoing development and implementation of experiential, intensive, arts curriculum with its emphasis on science, nature, agriculture and the environment perfectly compliments my own efforts to develop an informed, educated and dedicated community of life-long environmental stewards.
The EMoViTO will further Nimbus Arts’ work by elaborating on 4 themes:
1.Honeybees possess unique Mythology and Personality.
a.Honeybees are naturally gentle. b.Honeybees are insect “superheroes” throughout time and culture.
2.Honeybees provide food for us through pollination.
3.Honeybees need our immediate help!
a. Contemporary honeybee husbandry has been detrimental to honeybee populations.
b. Humans can save the honeybee through Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Sustainable Agricultural Practices.
4.Hive Products are nutritious, delicious and healing.
a. Students will compare the taste and color of varietal honey and pollen.
b. Medical benefits of honey, pollen, propolis and royal jelly will be examined.
Nimbus Arts’ relationships with area students, artists, scientists and community leaders compliment my relationships with simpatico organizations including Skyline Park, the Napa County Beekeepers’ Association and the Native Plant Society of Napa County which provide access to excellent venues for the EMoViTO Bee Hive’s experiential, educational mission. Nimbus Arts’ staff possess a deep understanding of the immediacy of our environmental mission and have created their organization to support the soul-stirring power of art to communicate this mission to the greater community.
Imagine how significant our impact will be when we reach children as they first learn about Nature and the environment in elementary and middle school. The EMoViTO furthers Nimbus Arts’ goals of reaching children early in their lives with opportunities to experience and understand Natural and Agricultural cycles and interconnectedness through the community expression and apprehension of art.
Imagine how impressed students and community members will be as they enter and observe, at close range, the fascinating, intricate community of a live, working honeybee colony without the risk of approaching a wild or managed hive.
As an artist and apiarist, I can provide Nimbus Arts with access to a focused, living exhibit which it lacks the resources to create in-house. Nimbus Arts provides me a connection to area students and community members so that I can educate and empower them to help save these important insect allies about whom I am so passionate.
Sharing the Joy
Nimbus Arts Director Jamie Graff and I have discussed in detail our plans for presenting the EMoViTO and it’s mission. I will oftentimes station the Observatory in the Nimbus Arts’ demonstration orchard and we will share with area students, community members and tourists our collective understanding of the interconnectedness of honeybees and the greater ecology. In cooperation with the Native Plants Society of Napa County, students in Nimbus Arts’ outreach programs will learn which native plant species provide food and materials for the honeybee and will, amongst other activities, collect samples of these plants to create artistic renderings suitable for display within the EMoViTO both as framed art and as wallpaper and textiles for the interior and for computer backgrounds.
Other “hands-on” activities Jamie and I envision include student-designed labels for honey which the students will help harvest, bottle and sell for the benefit of Nimbus Arts, Skyline Park, the Native Plant Society of Napa County and the EMoViTO project itself, and participation in designing and planting gardens and restoring honeybee habitat at Skyline Park and Nimbus Arts School where the EMoViTO will be based.
Additionally, as an Assistant Professor of Art teaching Photography at University of California, San Francisco, I plan to photograph students in the field as they engage in the activities mentioned above. These photographs will comprise rotating displays on the EMoViTO’s digital frames and computer screens.
Larry Pyle, owner of Skyline Park, looks forward to developing a relationship with Nimbus Arts in this new venture and also hosts meetings of the Napa Native Plants Society.
Keller, The EMoViTO Mobile Honeybee Observatory, CreativeWorkFund 2006
Sharing the Responsibility
As the creator and owner of the EMoViTO, I will be solely responsible for its safe operation and maintenance, insurance and for securing necessary permissions for its stationing.
Nimbus Arts will, with my additional input and insight, be creating classes and lesson plans.
The Arts Council of Napa County will provide oversight and fiscal accountability for the project.
Finding the right collaborative “fit” for the EMoViTO matters tremendously because I believe that saving the honeybee is now imperative and this necessity must be communicated. My original
collaborator on this project has— as organizations sometimes do—turned over many of its key staff members in the few months since we first submitted our proposal. With five new staff members and a change in Executive Director twice since my original contact, I began to approach other organizations who might understand this mission better.
The enthusiasm that greeted me came from so many directions! Not only does Nimbus Arts have the organizational wherewithal and community connections necessary to carry out the EMoViTO’s mission, but I have found kindred spirits. The Nimbus Arts folks “get it” and I am so grateful for their participation.
Other local organizations including Skyline Park and the Native Plant Society of Napa County have also stepped forward and voiced their enthusiastic commitment to making the EMoViTO happen in a big way!
Spring 2007 Development continues until the trailer is finished.
Summer 2007 Artist and Nimbus Arts Staff develop lesson plans for EMoViTO.
Nimbus Arts coordinates with area schools for school plans to visit EMoViTO as part of science curricula.
Spring 2008 Completed EMoViTO debuts with massive public relations campaign.
Summer 2008 EMoViTo tours the John Muir Bee Trail as outreach and education for local bee clubs along the multi-city trail.
I am eager to collaborate with this enthusiastic team of environmental educators and, with financial oversight provided by the Arts Council’s proven administrators and support from several community leaders, I predict the EMoViTO Bee Hive will engender a much broader consciousness of humankind’s essential relationship with the honeybee in our evolving environment.