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Clark Art Institute Launches Beekeeping Program

The Clark Art Institute
The Clark Art Institute wants an active beekeeping program to bring back the native bee population.

The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts plans to launch an active beekeeping program on its campus to help grow the native bee population. Last year, the bees were placed on the endangered species list. 

As part of its expansion project, the Clark Art Institute has taken a hard look at how sustainable its 140-acre campus really is.

Noting that seven species of bees were placed on the endangered species list last year, the Clark launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding project that yielded $10,000. Its plan is to build and maintain 40,000 bees on the roof of the Clark’s research center.

Grounds Manager Matthew Noyes says the Clark has taken on several initiatives to lessen its impact on the environment like installing green rooftops and building cleaner water management and irrigation systems.

He says the bees are the next big step in environmental stewardship.

“All of those types of things have sort been an overall goal of the institute. And really the bees become sort of a dovetail to that as part of sustainability and stewardship as you look at bee populations and the stress that they are under in the United States,” Noyes said. “We thought this would be an opportunity to do something that is about stewardship, that is about the environment and basically have a platform to heighten awareness for these types of concerns.”

“Except it’s not doing anything for the environment,” Jane Winn says.

That’s Jane Winn from the Berkshire Environmental Action Team. 

“It’s a very nice agricultural project, but environmentally that’s really not a help.”

Noyes acknowledges the amount of bees might be low and any real agricultural help could be negligible, but the project may soon offer some fresh, local honey to the public.

“I think it’s a situation where we have this really unbelievable opportunity with 140 acres to educate the public on a wide variety of sustainability issues and landscaping in general but also to sort of offer discussion. I think it is not going to necessarily be the thing that solves any problems but it may be an opportunity to have that discussion or raise that awareness,” Noyes said.

They’re Italian honey bees that were domesticated here in the U.S. for honey production around the 17th century. 

Winn says the Berkshires don’t need non-native bees for any other reason than for agricultural pollination. She says she is concerned the new bees might compete with and displace native bees.

“What we really need is protection for a native bees. So if instead they would plant a native wild flower garden especially with the late blooming asters and goldenrods so that our native bees could stock up on for winter that would really be a benefit for our native pollinators,” she said.

The Clark is planting 1,000 crocus bulbs for the bees early this spring. Crocuses are also not native to the region. Noyes says the Clark just wants to highlight the problem.

“First and foremost it is an art museum, a research academic center but it is also a place to at which critically think and to have an opportunity to engage in the outdoors and to talk a little bit about that.”

In 2015, the Clark Art Institute was presented with an honor award by The American Society of Landscape Architects for its green thumb.

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