“I hope the wild bees will like all these materials,” says beekeeper and artist Valerie Roybal. Corrugated cardboard pieces, along with an array of bamboo, bricks, mud, wood, clay pots, and logs, form a dense buffet of materials arranged inside a wooden frame. The artfully constructed patterns of material dotted with holes are designed with a purpose in mind: to attract New Mexican pollinators.
This “Bee Hotel for Wild Bees and Native Pollinators,” permanently installed at the City of Albuquerque Open Space Visitor Center, is one in a series of events organized by 516 Arts called Cross Pollination, curated by beekeeper and artist Valerie Roybal. The program and community events, which center around a multi-artist show at the 516 Arts gallery, seek to explore the ever-growing intersection of art and science. Everything focuses on pollinators, including wild bees, honey bees, butterflies, moths, wind, and more. (and not just bees) Various bees and other insects are responsible for the pollination of 75% of the country’s food supply. There are over 4,000 species in the continental US and over 400 identified in New Mexico alone (NMSU Pocket Guide to Native Bees of New Mexico, US Fish and Wildlife Service).
The artist behind the physical structure itself, Sheri Crider, has worked with a handful of volunteers to strip bamboo stalks and cut them into small segments to fit in the bee hotel. The segmented hotel is a multi-textured, many-layered structure that straddles the line between form and function. Art, she says, is too often something we just look at. “I’ve always been looking for opportunities where art and practice and community and nature interact,” she said. Crider owns the Sanitary Tortilla Factory, an art space downtown, and is an artist herself who works with discarded objects. When Roybal approached her with the bee hotel idea, Crider plunged right in, and Roybal gathered materials from her own and neighbor’s backyards.
Roybal, the curator of Cross Pollination, brightens at the opportunity to talk about native pollinators. She pulls out a book called The Bees in Your Backyard, by Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril, and points out some of her favorites. One of them is the leaf-cutter bee, which cuts holes out of leaves to fashion a sleeping-bag like cylindrical shelter. In one of Cross Pollination’s first events, Roybal is especially excited about the bee hotel’s potential to raise awareness about pollinators and to educate Open Space visitors. Showing people that they can create these spaces in their own backyard is one goal, Roybal says. And from an artistic perspective, she says, “It’s taking inspiration from nature, and trying to create something for nature, and along with nature.”
Bee hotels themselves are not new. Beekeepers and farmers alike, in the hopes of attracting beneficial pollinators to their ecosystems, design spaces for the insects that will encourage them to make homes. Besides honey bees, the vast majority of pollinating bees are solitary, and create holes in small spaces where they raise their young. Materials with narrow open pathways, like bamboo, wood drilled with holes, and mud that can be burrowed into, are the perfect spaces for a bee looking to settle down. Spaces like this are needed more than ever in an era of increasing pollinator colony decline.
As the volunteers fill holes in the structure with mud for pollinating insects to burrow in, onlookers gather around to see what the installation is all about. The strangely beautiful structure is exactly what it set out to be – an aesthetic invitation to discuss the often hidden world of insects, habitats, and food systems. In the upcoming events around Albuquerque, Cross Pollination hopes to reach a diverse audience through more interactive presentations, talks and visual art. For a full schedule of events, see the 516 Arts Summer/Fall program guide, both in print and online. Cross Pollination’s opening reception will be held on Saturday, August 19th from 6-8PM and will run until November 11th.
Bee Hotel for Wild Bees and Pollinators, ongoing
City of Albuquerque Open Space
6500 Coors NW
516 Central Ave. SW
Sophie Putka is a Massachusetts transplant in love with New Mexico. She writes, makes lattes, and haunts Albuquerque eateries in search of a good bagel. She can usually be found in the kitchen trying to use up as many leftovers as possible and plotting her next adventure.