Janney Elementary School

Washington, D.C.

(Bees 2560-2660)

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This project began with a letter from a little girl named Sanah Hutchins. In that letter she said she “wants to be a bee scientist and a dancer when she grows up.” She invited me to paint at her school and said she had “paint and brushes that I could use.” That was pretty much all it took and I was in. 

What I didn’t expect was how much I would learn on this project about everything from kids (over 700 interacting with the mural daily) to global policy. I was invited to join in a round table discussion at the Food and Agriculture Organization for the UN and met people working all over the world toward solving the issues facing pollinators. It became abundantly clear to me that all of our parts are important. Policy is key, but communicating it to the local level is essential. 

Jane Chu, Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts visited the mural site during the project, as we did a drawing exercise with the kids. I spoke alongside city council members at community panel discussions. I did several livingroom talks about the initiative and why it is important to go to the local level when facing environmental issues. The project opened my eyes to the fact that there are very few effective ways of communicating the knowledge about issues like pollination. It is necessary to create change at a local level. But the data and clear understanding of the issues often stay at the policy level. It was on this project that I really began to play with the idea of scaling The Good of the Hive to serve more communities. 

The crescendo of the project was a ribbon cutting event attended by the entire school and many people from the community. The Second Lady of the United States, Karen Pence, who is a beekeeper and was an elementary art teacher for many years joined us. We had dignitaries attend along with representation and a letter from the mayor’s office. Even the former President of Malawi attended the event. It was an opportunity for very different people with very different ideas to come together for an afternoon to agree about one thing, the bees. I believe fully that the bees are offering us an opportunity to set aside our differences and work together for something greater than us all, the environment. I really do believe that it is possible to find the joy in repairing our relationship to the earth. 

I was blown away at the ribbon cutting (it happened to coincide with my birthday) when they surprised me with 1000 people singing me happy birthday. I’m not usually big into birthday stuff, but this was very sweet because I had gotten to know so many of the kids. 

This was also the day I decided never to write a speech down again. As I walked to the podium, a wind gust came and blew the notes I had written out into the abyss. In the moment it felt a bit terrifying, but It forced me to simply get really present and speak from my heart about this work I have dedicated my life to. And since doing that, I have really come to understand that the words do not mean one tenth of what the heart is capable of communicating with some honest stories about a simple journey with the bees.

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38.9476° N, 77.0810° W