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Proper buzzing

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Last summer, Manchester found itself swarmed by an insect invasion. Local charity I Love MCR has commissioned Bee In The City, an art trail featuring over 100 giant worker bee sculptures, created by art events specialists Wild In Art. Counterpoint spoke to Director Sally-Anne Wilkinson to find out more.

How are the bees made?

Our 3D Bee sculpture has been custom designed by Wild in Art’s Creative Director, Chris Wilkinson. He has designed many of our Wild in Art sculptures, always producing a canvas that enables artists to create hundreds of designs utilising just one sculpture. He keeps the sculptures as simple as possible so that an artist can interpret in their own style. The sculptures are made of lightweight fibreglass and can stand the rigours of outdoor living.

How do you choose the locations for each sculpture?

Whenever we plan a Wild in Art trail our main aim is to create the most enjoyable route for the public. We work closely with councils to pinpoint the places where people will love to see a sculpture – we display them in the well-known areas of a city, but we also tuck sculptures away so that people go off the beaten track to find them. It’s all about encouraging people to get out and explore with their friends or family, whether they know the city like the back of their hand or are a first-time visitor. We also want to transform how people look at a familiar place. They might walk past a building every day on their commute and not really notice it, but then one day a giant bee will appear there! It’s a really fun way to get people to re-look at a place they thought they knew.

No matter how much we plan each location, there are always surprises which can change the final route. Each of the bee sculptures has a sponsor who might give a brilliant suggestion for a location that we haven’t thought about, or one of the team might spot the perfect place whilst exploring the city at the weekend. We never truly know the shape of the trail until we walk around it as a team and test it out – that’s always a really exciting moment!

Bee in the City invited local artists to customise many of the bee sculptures around the city - how did you choose each artist?

There are so many things that we’ve looked for from artists’ designs, but the crucial question is ‘will people love it?’ Will they stop to look at this design in the street, take photos of it and tell their friends about it? Does it reflect the vibrant spirit of Manchester?

Each Wild in Art event is different as the host city will tell its own story through the creative process. Our policy is to engage as many regional artists as possible. The team had the difficult task of shortlisting almost 400 submitted designs down to 180, and then the sponsors picked their favourites at a special art selection event back in April. We now have just over 100 confirmed giant bees and they’re all so different.

The bee is a long-standing symbol of Manchester, but Mancunians seem to be re-embracing it lately - why do you think that is?

The worker bee symbol has been part of Manchester's cultural and industrial heritage since the mid-1800s. The bee emblem took on extra resonance in the aftermath of the Arena attack last year, when it was widely used a symbol of the city’s solidarity and resilience. Whilst Bee in the City isn’t a memorial event, the trail takes place in this enduring spirit and recognises the extra poignancy of the bee.

What can public artworks like Bee In The City do for a community, for a city?

It’s simple really – culture makes a place better. It makes people happier, brings people together, and can have a real and lasting effect on a community. So many people are getting involved in Bee in the City, not just during the trail itself but through its creation. 30,000 Manchester school children are taking part in an inspiring learning programme, which includes loads of activities from painting their own Bee sculptures for the trail to learning about bee conservation. Diverse community groups from all over Manchester are also designing their own Bees, which is uniting people who may never have met but live just down the road from each other.

Today it’s easy to feel disconnected from other people, as if we’re all getting on with our own lives in our own little bubbles. That’s why it’s so important to get together as a whole community and take part in a shared and memorable experience like Bee in the City.

Bee In The City kicked off across Manchester from July 23-September 23 2018.


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