Cross-Pollinating Ideas – “Graphics for the Commons”

Just dug up this oldie… I am pleased to share a little promotional piece I made in 2012, at the request of the gallery director at The New School in New York City.

This was my first wildly successful innovative collaborative graphic-making training.  I had learned the basic concept, what the Beehive Collective generically names “Graphics for the Commons,” from a veteran bee, but for the New School I did a radical overhaul.

Since then I have gone on to elaborate the workshop enormously, but the ideas that make this my favorite type of training, first illuminated here, are still its heart and soul.  This one-page promotional piece for a college magazine does not actually explain the process, but you can read about similar activities in my reports on Roanoke Residency and Srishti Seminar.  Outline of the introduction/agenda I always start with below.


The Beehive Collective’s slogan is “Cross-Pollinating the Grassroots” – we seek to create meaningful artwork that empowers and inspires people to change the world, especially by methods of working collaboratively, encouraging vibrant open-minded discussion, and uplifting unheard voices and celebrating diversity.
We love the bee metaphor! Here are some reasons why:
Honey bees operate by democracy of enthusiasm – everyone gets a voice and they decide together what choices are best. They have a flexible division of labor to ensure that all work efficiently and focus on their strengths, but they move from one job to the next as needed. They collect huge amounts of nectar and then pass it along from bee to bee (“kissing” – really!) by which the nectar is refined and transformed into honey. Honey is everything to the bees, it is food, medicine, the walls of the hive, it is essential to raising the next generation and also keeping the hive well-fed, warm, and close throughout the winter – what a great way to think about the importance of art! And bees are agents of reproduction and facilitators of evolution – everything in the bees world is about symbiosis, collaboration, and cycles.
We believe that – ART – EDUCATION – ACTIVISM – are most powerful and most interesting when used together, our group employs not only artists but also community organizers, teachers, biologists, and journalists. Our work bounces around these different aspects restlessly, always changing and evolving, sometimes unexpectedly, but often deliberately as we continuously move through these cycles:
* ART cycle = create, critique, refine…
* EDUCATION cycle = theory, practice… (aka praxis)
* ACTIVISM cycle = recruit, train, action…
1. Games! Remember to set limits, set goals, and always stay on the “learning edge”
2. Idea Generation: includes research, and mind-mapping – this part is “expansive”
3. Refining: edit and critique… often multiple iterations of this step
4. Drawing only comes after these 3 steps, some times it is the smallest part of the process (though not necessarily the quickest!)
5. Division of Labor – artists vision, organizers initiate, educators research, everyone involved in story development, then artists represent, educators share, organizers recruit…
Drawing process divided into different types, very similar to assembly-line style process of comic books – writer passes to pencil artist passes to inker passes to colorist passes to type-setter passes to cover designer passes to pre-press etc… this allows each artist to play to their strengths while together we create something much more elaborate and skillful than any one could ever do.
After drawings are finished, reproduced large (on fabric) and small (on paper) – then the largest and longest part of our work begins, traveling and re-telling stories, learning new stories, making connections and building networks… this is the “cross-pollinating” work that is really the heart of what we do, the drawings are just the beginning!
Often we continue making derivative works like narrative booklets, translations of those booklets, mini-posters and patches, slide-shows, presentations and workshops, videos and online tools, for years afterwards – these graphics and stories continue to be living and evolving as long as we continue making use of them.

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