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The Clark Is Abuzz With A Sweet Sustainability Initiative

A view of the Clark Art Institute campus from Stone Hill.

The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts will opens its doors Sunday for a free day of art, exploration, and bees.

Matt Noyes is the horticulturalist and grounds manager at the Clark Art Institute. He’s been involved with a number of efforts to make the museum more sustainable.

“Water recycling, ground water recharge, a thousand native trees, mowing patterns, and things of that nature, sort of speaking to the greater sustainability initiatives that we have on the campus,” Noyes told WAMC.

But this weekend, when the Clark holds its final First Sunday Free of the season, a very specific sustainability project will be highlighted.

“So the conversation this weekend has to do with also bees on the campus,” said Noyes.

That’s right: bees.

“Right now there’s three hives. There’s approximately 45,000 bees right now," said beekeeper Dave Thayer. He’s worked with the insects for a quarter-century.

“It’s a lot of science involved because you’ve got to be almost like a scientist now because of all the diseases, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides that bother your hives," said Thayer. "Not only that, there’s different viruses that bees get — like foulbrood, European foulbrood, sacbrood — so you’ve got to know quite a bit”

Noyes can point to exactly what brought bees to the Clark.

“The desire when Olivier Meslay arrived on campus, sort of his familiarity with bees and his background in Paris and rooftop beekeeping," he said. "And it sort of dovetailed in sort of nicely with our thought process and philosophy on sustainability and land use practices.”

“I’m a bee lover myself," said Meslay. "I like bees, I’ve always been fascinated by that, but I never connected that with my job. I mean, there was no reason for me to think that one day I would put together these two passions.”

Olivier Meslay is the fifth director of the Clark Art Institute. He assumed his position in August 2016, and on his first tour of the campus with Noyes, he was inspired.

“I was asking, but Matt, do we have beehives on the ground? And he said, no we do not have beehives. I said OK, that’s sad," said Olivier. "And then I realized that I was the director.”

So with that realization, Meslay’s first move as director was to get a cost estimate. When the quote came back high due to the costs of protecting potential hives from the Berkshires’ bear population, Meslay was inspired by the 13 years he spent working at the Louvre.

“In Paris there is bees on roofs of the opera, for example," said Meslay. "And they are producing honey. And I thought, OK, we can do like the opera in Paris, we could have honey made on our roof, even if it is not an urban environment.”

Noyes sees the bees as a gateway to the Clark’s larger goals for sustainability.

“As much as these are agricultural bees, producing honey, but we also do a great deal on campus to support native pollinators and in doing so, having the bees on campus is sort of the beacon or the shining light that allows us to create that dialogue,” said Noyes.

And so, Sunday’s theme will be “Clark Buzz.” In addition to exploring the museum and its grounds for free, attendees will be able to make their own beeswax candles, create native seed bombs, and taste the honey gathered from the first harvest of the hives. Meslay, Noyes, and Thayer will be joined by Massachusetts Chief Apiary Inspector Dr. Kim Skirm for a talk on the Clark bees at 2.

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