Making art inclusive; the journey of our ‘Bee-yond Expectations’ sculpture

As part of Manchester’s ‘Bee in the City’ sculpture trail in Summer 2018, where 100 uniquely designed bee sculptures were scattered across Manchester, we were fortunate to have our own NHS sponsored Bee. We share the journey of the sculpture and how we created our accessible Bee.

In March 2018, we were offered a fantastic opportunity to create one of the NHS’s four bee sculptures, with ours having a ‘sensory’ theme. It was important to us that the sculpture was as inclusive as possible, that our service users and volunteers could help shape the design, and that the Bee could put a spotlight on the importance of accessibility to the arts.

First up, finding our artist!

Monique, better known as ‘Wild Portrait Artist’, had submitted a design that showcased the bee in magnified detail. Monique’s passion is animal portraiture with the goal of showing just how vibrant and wonderful wildlife can be, and she wanted people to be able to appreciate bees in a new way and level of detail – which aligned perfectly with our goals too.

Monique’s original design used traditional paint, but after being set the challenge of creating a multisensory, tactile bee, began to research and incorporate different materials into the design.

Making the sculpture accessible

In May, members of our Art Galleries and Museums Group and Arts and Crafts Group kindly gave us feedback through email and in a consultation meeting, and helped to shape the project with discussion topics such as, ‘What sensory and tactile elements would make art accessible for you?’ ‘What does art mean to you?’, and ‘What colours and imagery do you associate with bees?’ Some of the responses included;

“Having sighted guides and audio description of the exhibits, being able to touch surfaces to identify contrasting textures and listen to any associated sounds of objects and their surroundings.”

“Bring able to access art, history and culture generally, regardless of ability and movement, is of huge importance. To be valued, included and heard is incredibly uplifting.”

“[I think of bees as] black and yellow small, rounded, furry feeling creatures flying and working busily to achieve their goal. The lovely smell and taste of the smooth, golden honey they produce and the buzzing sound they make. Also the honeycombe shapes within and triangular shape outside hives.”

This feedback then helped to shape Monique’s final sculpture; with a ‘hairy’ texture for the Bee’s legs, honeycomb textured eyes, ringed antennae, and iridescent paint, so the body shimmers in the light.

We also teamed up with our friend Anne Hornsby from Mind’s Eye, a national audio description provider who often supports our Art Galleries and Museum Group, to create a wonderful audio description of the Bee, which was available for people to hear by pushing a small button on the dome of the sculpture.

“Come down from my head and find a ball shape; this is my thorax, or chest, or upper abdomen, and here, like on the top of my head, you can again feel the ridges and grooves of the fine hairs which cover my body. My thorax is a golden yellowy brown, and on either side my wings protrude, a pair on each side.”

An excerpt of the audio description from Anne Hornsby, full audio available on our Bee's web page.

Anne Hornsby with a clipboard, posing next to the Bee which is mostly white and ready to be painted.

Audio description is an amazing service where additional commentary is available to films, TV, theatre, galleries, etc., which enhances access to the arts for blind and partially sighted people. Sound artist Dan Fox also provided real audio from beehives, to add to the immersive audio experience.

The different textures and elements of our sculpture allow visitors to get as ‘hands on’ as possible, and we also provided audio readings of all 100 of the Bee in the City’s sculptures; making the art trail more inclusive and accessible.

Henshaws' bee sculpture ready to go; the bee is over 5 foot, and has different tactile elements including honey comb eyes and luminescent paint on the body.

Ready to fly the nest!

Our Bee was ready for its launch in July 2018, but not without a sneak preview for some of our group members and volunteers at the warehouse (aka, the hive!) that the sculpture was painted in.

During the Bee in the City trail, from 23rd July to 23rd September, our Bee found its home at North Manchester General Hospital outside the Children and Families Clinic, where it made friends with the staff and patients there and was download over 1300 times from the Bee in the City app!

Finding its ‘forever home’

After the sculpture trail had ended, the Bee had to find its ‘forever home’; and what better place than Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, who we have worked with for over 25 years, and where part of our Patient Support Service is based.

The Bee officially moved into its new, permanent home on Monday 15th October, where it was introduced with an afternoon tea that was kindly attended by the Lord Mayor of Manchester, group members, volunteers, staff, and local poet Dave Steele. The sculpture is based on the ground floor atrium of the hospital and is available for the public to visit.

A huge thank you to the NHS for sponsoring the Bee which provided this opportunity, and to everyone who contributed and supported the project. For more information on the Bee, visit its page at henshaws.org.uk/beeyond-expectations, or to find out more about the importance of art, check out our eBook ‘Art Making – the positive impact of creative art projects’ at https://www.henshaws.org.uk/e-book/

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Sophie
Sophie
Sophie is the Community Services & Digital Communications Manager, and is responsible for marketing Henshaws Community Services and managing the online content.
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