The history of the Beehive goes back and forth between the local and the global, the little and the big picture — just like our graphics. In the big picture story, we emerged out of the energy of the anti-globalization/global justice movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s, as massive protests were trying to shut down the meetings of global financial institutions and free trade negotiations, rocking cities from Seattle to Miami. We distributed our early work on the streets of these mobilizations, putting thousands of posters directly into people’s hands from all over the country, doing impromptu storytelling, and gathering contacts and collaborators for our first tours.
On the local level, the Beehive was sparked by a collaborative mosaic installation in Maine. The original group that became the Beehive came together as a mosaic cooperative to teach and practice the traditional craft of hand-cut stone mosaic, and take on commissions that would support this swarm of artists and activists in other creative endeavors as well. Out of this project a small group set down roots in eastern Maine, and began restoration work on the beautiful but endangered Machias Valley Grange Hall, originally with the desire to fix it up as studio space.
The building restoration soon grew into a much bigger project of bringing a community cultural center back to life, entirely with volunteer labor and donations from our posters. By the time the Grange was re-opened in 2005 in time for it’s 100th Birthday Celebration, the focus of the group had shifted from mosaics to working more full time on illustration projects. We often compare our mosaics and illustration work, as they are both forms of making storytelling murals that take a lot of patience, made up of a multitude of carefully gathered and assembled pieces that add up to a much bigger picture!
The earliest graphics that became known as “Beehive posters” were designed for Biodevastation/BioJustice, a large protest and gathering to organize against genetic engineering, which was organized for many years to coincide with the annual convention of BIO, The Biotechnology Industry Organization. These posters warn of the dangers of biotechnology and monoculture in agriculture and in our society at large.
In 2001 the Bees collaborated with organizers to produce an outreach tool designed to explain what the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City that year was all about, and why people were mobilizing a giant protest there against the negotiations of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. The FTAA poster was our first large-scale “graphics campaign” — a poster with a narrative built into it, designed for storytelling and educating, and linked to specific social movements and campaigns.
The FTAA poster became the first in the Beehive’s trilogy of graphics about globalization in the Americas, followed by the Plan Colombia graphic, about the U.S. subsidized War on Drugs in Colombia. Work began on the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic in 2004. This final graphic in the trilogy would end up taking nine years to complete, culminating in an expansive, double-sided poster that documents stories of resistance to the mega-infrastructure development plan Project Mesoamerica (previously known as Plan Puebla Panama).
During the nine years of work on Mesoamérica Resiste, numerous smaller graphics were completed, tackling issues like the G8 , privatization of water in Maine, and climate change. In 2008, a team began researching and collecting stories about the devastating impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining, collaborating with organizers and community groups in the central Appalachian region of the U.S. The True Cost of Coal graphic was released at the US Social Forum in 2010, and we’ve toured extensively with it over the past several years.
Though our graphics campaigns focus on global issues and are shared far and wide, and our swarm of Bees is spread out across many locations, our physical hive is located on the coast of Down East Maine. Bees based at our Maine hive live and work together in a historic house where we host visitors and volunteers, maintain the Machias Valley Grange Hall as a community event space, donate poster designs to local events, and throw the annual Blackfly Ball during the town’s Wild Blueberry Festival weekend. We are currently working on opening a new community print shop and arts space in our downtown, and we are doing our best to be involved in ongoing town revitalization efforts in responsible, creative ways that honor this area’s local history and needs.
INTO THE FUTURE
A team of Bees is working on a new graphic about Detroit this year – stay tuned for more updates! We have been pretty focused on distributing and touring with the Mesoamérica Resiste graphics campaign, which includes collaborations with organizers and educators throughout the Americas. We continue to do education work with the True Cost of Coal graphic, training new storytellers and connecting to other anti-mining campaigns in other parts of the world. Many of our Bees are excited about doing more residencies, hands-on projects and workshops, and collaborating with groups who want to make Beehive-style graphics campaigns. We are always interested in hearing proposals and requests, and sometimes we have Bees available to take on smaller graphics projects.