Building up buzz: Plains Art Museum internship, garden aim to spread awareness of bees, other pollinators

Interns Emma Swenson (left), Taylor Qualey, Miro Herrera Grant and Addy Thornberg (right) plant the start of a pollinator garden at the Plains Art Museum with artist and instructor Christine Baeumler (second from left) on June 10. Through the Buzz Lab program, 17 local teens were selected to work on the first phase of a defiant garden project while spreading awareness of the importance of pollinators. Cody Jacobson / Plains Art Museum

FARGO - A buzzing swarm overtook the Plains Art Museum last week, but there’s no need for an exterminator – it was all by design.

More than 40 teenagers applied for the one-week Buzz Lab internship that offered a paycheck for creating art, learning from experts and planting a new pollinator garden on the museum grounds.

Organizers selected 17 interns to boost urban habitat for bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators while spreading awareness of the issues facing this vital part of the food supply and ecosystem. They’ll return for a day in July and again in August to work on the garden.

Christine Baeumler, an associate arts professor at the University of Minnesota, first pitched the project during a summit on defiant gardens at the museum about five years ago. She built a team of experts from diverse fields, including Barr Engineering Co. in Minneapolis and other artists, to launch the program.

It might seem surprising to base this environmental movement at a museum, but Baeumler said it’s a perfect fit.

“I think about art as the ability to use our imaginations to create positive change, so art is a catalyst for positive change,” she said. “I think an art museum can be a place to demonstrate these alternative ways of thinking about how we live.”

‘Better stewards’

MeLissa Kossick, a community artist educator who first started working on Buzz Lab three years ago, said the 17 interns represent “some of the best and the brightest” students in the region.

Artists are often at the forefront of social change, she said, so the interns were able to use art as a way of communicating what they learned with the broader public through social media and their work.

The teens spent the week making art, including writing poetry and creating “bee houses” for native bee species. They also visited local beekeepers, spoke with landscape architects and learned about the intersection of art and design and the issues contributing to the decline of bee populations.

“They’re at the point now where they’re rethinking their aesthetics about how landscapes should be installed and how they’re going to change their own homes and yards,” she said.

Fargo South High School senior Lily Hannaher said she appreciated learning about the ways landscaping choices can affect nearby wildlife, even in a city. Small changes, such as adding a diversity of plants and more native plants to gardens, can give the pollinators more food and a safer place to live, she said.

Led by Isa Herrera, a sophomore at West Fargo High School who has been making videos for the past couple years, the interns got together to create a public service announcement with a simple but important message: don’t fear the bugs.

She asked the interns to make their case why we should embrace bugs, and offer ways to help the environment, for the short PSA now on YouTube.

“The kids worked really hard on it, too, to just try to get their voices out there,” she said.

Buzz Lab was just one part of the pollinator garden at the Plains Art Museum, and Colleen Sheehy, director and CEO, said there are plans for several more phases that will make the museum an environmentally friendly oasis for pollinators in Fargo.

Future plans include storm water improvements, such as a cistern that will collect rainwater from the roof of a nearby apartment building to water the new garden, as well as removing some concrete at the museum to free up more space for plants and flowers.

“We’re trying to have the garden be a demonstration site of new ways of thinking about our urban environment and how even small interventions and changes can help the environment in many different ways,” Sheehy said. “Humans like nature; we are part of nature, so the more that we can be in nature and reinforce our connections to nature, the better stewards we’ll be.”

The museum also is working on two other artist-designed “defiant garden” projects, with one planned for the site of the old Moorhead power plant and a “fern grotto” built into a boxcar at the Great Northern Bicycle Co. in downtown Fargo.

Once more funding is secured, Sheehy said the plan is to create a green roof on the museum’s loading dock and possibly add a beehive to the sky bridge that would give visitors an up-close look at the busy little workers making honey that can be sold on site.

Hannaher said she’s proud to know that she’ll be able to see the fruits of her labor through the Buzz Lab program whenever she visits the museum.

“It’s really nice to get connected into one of the parts of the community,” she said.

Herrera admitted she’s “not really an outside person,” and said she doesn’t like bugs much. Still, she won’t try to kill them anymore after learning about their importance, and said she’ll support the future efforts at the Plains Art Museum to give bees a better home – as long as she can do it from a distance.