Early this fall semester, a couple of representatives from Beehive Design Collective gave a presentation about their latest art project entitled Mesoamérica Resiste. They are an activist art collective based in Machias, ME with a goal of teaching others about current global problems through storytelling and copyright free art. By touring, or “cross-pollinating”, they spread the voices and stories that have been incorporated into mural-style drawings about issues in Central America. After coming up with the idea for their latest project they gathered a group of artists who visited several Central American countries and then started working on how they were going to present the stories told to them through a visual. The following interview was with Tyler Bee, one of the artists and “cross-pollinators” involved with this ten-year labor of love and activism.
Sebastian: How and when did you become involved with the Beehive? What projects has the collective taken up until now?
Tyler: I became involved in 2008, when folks were first starting “The True Cost of Coal” project, and they were recruiting new team members to take on this ambitious project. Graphics projects include “Free Trade,” “Plan Colombia,” “The True Cost of Coal,” and “Mesoamerica Resiste.” There are also numerous small graphics that individuals or small teams have created, but I usually don’t count those. Local projects mostly center around Machias Valley Grange Hall (there are other recent endeavors, still in nascent stage).
S: The “Mesoamerica Resiste” project quite a bit of Spanish in the textual storytelling. What led the artists to keep the language as a part of the project?
T: In my opinion, it’s not a lot at all. That image is like a political cartoon the size of a textbook, and there are probably not more than 50 words in total across both images. And, of course, people in Central America speak Spanish, it would be pretty insulting to collect all their stories and then display them in a way they cannot understand (i.e. English). These graphics are not meant solely to tell people in the US about what is happening in other parts of the world (though of course they do that very well), they are also intended to help people in front line communities tell their own stories and organize their communities around shared experiences.
S: Are there bilingual partners of the Beehive who help during the researching aspect of the projects in Central America or are there hired translators?
T: Of the 7-8 people who traveled through Central America, most of them were Spanish speakers, who translated for the 1-2 people who did not speak Spanish. Images are great for transcending language barriers – one member of the group who lives in Colombia sometimes works with indigenous peoples who don’t speak Spanish, but the posters and banners can communicate in spite of this.
S: The “Mesoamerica Resiste” and “Plan Mesoamerica” visuals are incredibly stunning because of the style and story-telling aspects. Once these projects were finished on the drawing board what was the next step?
T: They got scanned in on a giant scanner (roll-through, 48 inches wide!), and then there was a little pre-press color manipulation to make the extremely dense imagery read a little better, then they were printed on big banners and on thousands of posters too.
S: You mentioned that you are an artist and a “cross-pollinator” within the collective. What does that mean exactly? What other roles are there within the group?
T: Mostly there are illustration, travelling education, and local community organizing roles. Its all pretty loose, we have become more of a de-centralized network nowadays and individuals engage in different ways, different levels of commitment. There’s also lots of required tasks like book-keeping (that’s me), sending out packages when we get webstore orders and corresponding with printers (that used to be me), and other things associated with running a small business. Roles change over often, as people come and go. Most of us do this in a part-time fashion, volunteer, so we just do our best to juggle the many tasks among few people. In general there is a lot of variety and change in roles and tasks.
S: During the speech you said that you would be going to India soon to help a group of artists start a similar project for their country. Is this the next step the collective has in mind by spreading the “beehive mentality” to others from different cultures?
T: I traveled to India last summer, and brought beehive posters with me. Many people really loved them, and a couple of collaborative artist/activist groups got really excited, saying “We could do this!” and they invited me to return to try to facilitate the process of getting a collaborative story-telling graphic started. Its all the organization can do to just pay our bills month to month, but the *IDEA* is what is really special, and many people around the world have been inspired by it – we have bees all over the US, as well as in Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Spain, UK, Poland, and Australia.
S: Are there any ideas floating around the Beehive about what the next project or cause will be?
T: Too many to list, and I have no inkling about what folks will decide on. I would venture a guess that we are more likely to see multiple smaller graphics in the coming years, now that we have this growing decentralized network.
S: What can a college student who is interested in helping out or even joining the Beehive do to help (especially if they can’t donate money)?
T: Many people travel to Machias during the summer to meet the bees, work on local community service projects, and connect with other like-minded young activists. Keep an eye on the website, info about opportunities should be posted there as they come up.
For more about the Beehive Collective’s projects and process visit their website: http://beehivecollective.org/en/