About 60,000 bees will soon find permanent homes among geraniums, summersweets and butterfly mint at the Cincinnati Art Museum. The pollinators will likely take up residence in mid-April as part of a collaboration with the Queen City Pollinator Project.
Jill Dunne, director of marketing communications for the museum, says the bees are part of an effort to focus more on the facility's outdoor grounds, like when they added a nine-story art climb staircase last summer.
"We do have art outside the museum now — giant sculptures along the climb, we have work with Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park — and we feel like as we're continuing to do these good steps outside, that the bees just made sense," she says.
It also lines up with the museum's goals to focus on community wellness. Bees, and their impact on food and ecosystems, are directly tied to that mission.
Carrie Driehaus, co-founder of the Queen City Pollinator Project, says the decline of all pollinators should be a concern to everyone because the impacts are far-reaching.
"The fact is that with climate change; the use of broad spray chemicals, pesticides and herbicides; loss of habitat; ... putting up buildings where there were fields of milkweed that fed monarch butterflies — all of those things have led to a strong decline in all of our pollinator populations," she says. "And we should care because it affects the food that we eat, that affects the whole ecosystem in big, big ways."
Two large boxes, with no tops or bottoms, will be added to museum grounds and serve as hives for the bees. Inside, Driehaus says each will have about 10 removable wooden frames where the bees will form honeycombs.
"We will get a three-pound box of bees from some beekeepers that we know and you literally dump them into the hive," she explains. "And there's a process to it to make sure that they try to help them stay, but usually they're pretty happy there and they'll just set up their home."
Eventually, additional boxes will be stacked on top of the originals, giving the hives a chance to grow to about twice their starting size. But Driehaus says they'll stop adding boxes eventually so native pollinators don't have to compete with the bees for food.
Eventually, museum officials hope to harvest some of the honey for their onsite cafe and gift shop, though that won't be for a few years.
Dunne says the museum is in the project for the haul and in the process of going through their collection of around 67,000 pieces to catalogue bee-related art.
"So we're in the process of creating a list of all the artworks, whether sculpture or painting, or photography and prints. So, we're gathering all those artworks so that we can feature bees within our collection as well," she says.
After bees get settled in May, the museum is launching an "adopt a bee" fundraiser, giving people a chance to name their very own bee. And upcoming contests will allow people to vote for the names of the queen bees.
The urban bees making the move to the museum join other bees making their homes in the city. A hive at Hauck Botanical Gardens is one of the strongest hives in Southwest Ohio with 50,000 bees.