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Museum bees pollinate Brooklyn

by godlove4241
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Brooklyn is buzzing. At the top of the Brooklyn Museum are two beehives, each housing between 10,000 and 50,000 honey bees that travel an average of three miles in search of nectar, pollinating local flowers.

The beehives are part of the museum’s sustainability initiatives, which also include an internal sustainability working group, as well as programs, events, and exhibits related to environmental justice and climate change. Installed and maintained by beekeeper Bruce Gifford of Cultivated beesbeehives are part of a growing movement to use cultural spaces to support local ecosystems.

The Brooklyn Museum launched its Green Initiatives in 2022 to promote socially and environmentally responsible change within the institution and the community. “We have developed a ‘social action framework’,” says Adjoa Jones de Almeida, the museum’s deputy director for learning and social impact. “This framework proposes sustained, multi-year engagement on two key issues reflecting broad and pressing global themes with grave implications for Brooklyn and our world: climate change and mass criminalization.”

Cultured Bees’ Bruce Gifford tending to beehives on the roof of the Brooklyn Museum Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

To address these issues, the museum has taken small steps, such as phasing out single-use plastic bottles, as well as larger structural changes, including updating gas and electrical equipment to reduce operational carbon emissions. The museum also supports the work of local social and climate justice organizations and sustainability initiatives through partnerships and community engagement.

The thousands of bees that descend from the roof of the museum and pollinate the surrounding area, including adjacent Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, are emblematic of this local awareness. An individual bee pollinates about 1,000 flowers per day, so each colony can pollinate 50 million flowers per day. While bees are self-sufficient, Gifford assists with initial growth, supplying new hives with sugar water at least once a week until they support themselves by foraging for nectar. He monitors the bees throughout the spring and summer, visiting them every few weeks to check on their general health and add layers if needed. He harvests the surplus honey in the fall and leaves enough for the bees to survive the winter.

“Providing bees with a safe space to build their colonies while learning about their society and social structure is fascinating,” says Gifford. “I like to observe the structure of a hive – their democratic decision-making – and the crucial role that bees play in our ecosystem. All are opportunities to spark productive conversations and provide a lens for thinking about human societies.

beekeeping was legalized in New York in 2010 when the City Board of Health voted unanimously to lift one of the only practice bans in the United States. The city’s first museum hives were installed soon after at the Whitney Museum of American Art in its former Upper East Side location. Moving downtown with the museum in 2015, bees now pollinate the High Line and are cared for by beekeepers Chucker Branch and Christine Lehner.

Beehives on the roof of the Brooklyn Museum Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

In addition to the hives at the Brooklyn Museum, Gifford has installed and maintains two hives on the roof of the Museum of Arts and Design (Mad). Built last spring, the hives pollinate Central Park and also house up to 50,000 bees each, including two queens: Queen Aileen, named after Mad founder Aileen Osborn Webb, and Queen Toshiko Takaezu, named after the famous ceramist and supporter of the museum. .

This spring, the Museum of Modern Art (Moma) is working with Gifford to install its own hives. Moreover, for the first time since 2015the Moma will exhibit its famous sculpture by Pierre Huyghe Until (Liegender Frauenakt) (2012) from June as part of a contemporary art installation in his sculpture garden. The work features a nude concrete female figure whose head is made of a beehive structure, wax, and a colony of live bees tended by a specialist beekeeper unrelated to Gifford. Although the sculpture is separate from the hives on the roof, the bees will support local pollination.

Through all of these initiatives, visitors can see firsthand the impact a museum has on the local ecosystem. “Cultural institutions are very aware of social and environmental issues and are eager to help bring about real change in the world,” says Gifford. He adds that by hosting hives, “institutions become producers, as well as guardians of the city”.

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