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International muralist buzzing into Scranton

Location of downtown Scranton's newest mural
Kat Bolus, WVIA News
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The Scranton Civic Ballet Company building at 234 Mifflin Avenue where a new mural will be painted.

Artist Matt Willey has a mission: connect people around the world like bees are connected to their hive and the health of their community.

He’s doing that by hand painting 50,000 honey bees in murals around the world. His bees are in Bejing, China; North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and the United Kingdom.

Beginning in September, Willey’s pollinators — part of his “For the Good of Hive'' project — will begin to populate the side of the Scranton Civic Ballet Center at 234 Mifflin Avenue in downtown Scranton.

The Wright Center for Community Health and Lackawanna College are both sponsors of the newest public art commission from the Scranton Tomorrow Mural Arts Program.

As a community health organization with clinics throughout the region, the Wright Center is invested in not only Scranton but also the health of the community, said Kara Seitzinger, director of public affairs.

“Matt really is going to put us even further on the map … But we always want to make sure that we take pride in our city in our area.. And so Matt's project itself is going to have so many repercussions ... it's gonna be ongoing," Seitzinger said.

Steve Ward, the Downtown Safe, Clean & Green Ambassador Team Leader for Scranton Tomorrow, believes Willey's artwork is going to have a long-lasting impact on the Scranton area.

“What we do affects other people, just like the good of the hive,” he said.

In 2008, a bee landed on the floor of Willey’s New York City art studio. He followed it, getting closer to a bee than he’d ever been before. He found the buzzing insect with its big eyes and fuzzy body, beautiful. The bug died about two hours later. But his interest was piqued. Willey started researching honeybees. He found that when a bee is sick it will practice altruistic self removal and leave its colony, for the good of the hive.

“What fascinated me was that they take this drastic act, because they're basically hardwired to understand that their immune system is collective. It's based on the health of the hive, not the individual bee," he said.

A muralist by trade, he spent some time reflecting on the bee and in 2015, Willey, now a Narrowsburg, New York, resident, started his project.

He’s painted 10,000 bees and 35 murals so far and estimates he has another 14 years left on the project to reach his goal. The number – 50,000 – comes from the amount of bees that make a healthy hive, he said.

Willey has an outline for his Scranton mural but he likes to let the artwork and the amount of bees featured develop as he gets to know the area he’s painting.

Since the large-scale artwork eventually becomes part of a city or a town, Willey involves the community in his Good of the Hive project. He invites teachers and students and anyone interested in learning more about his craft and honey bees to visit while he paints.

“It's a really great opportunity to connect people around the idea of what I'm doing, which is really not just looking at what bees need in terms of conservation, but looking at how they can inform how we behave in the world," he said. "There's certain things they do that are a little ahead of us, in my opinion, like they just naturally take care of one to one another in a way that we don't always do.”

Willey is excited that the mural will be on the wall of Scranton Civic Ballet Company’s building. Bees communicate through dance, he added.

He believes everything and everyone is connected; from people to plants to water systems.

"When we start living in a way that's all connected like a bee with her hive, we have such a better chance of really healing these bigger problems that we have in the world," he said. "That's really what excites me about the work is that I see that happen. You see those connections get made in kids and adults. It really fuels me to keep going with the work."

Willey is set to start painting by September. Lackawanna College will host him for a lecture in October and the mural will be unveiled during First Friday in November.

"I'm really excited that Scranton is participating. I can't wait to go there and get to meet everybody," Willey said.