Here’s the buzz about Scranton’s mural of bees in tutus

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In 2019, Rose Randazzo Pizzuto reached out to artist Matt Willey to paint a mural for Scranton Tomorrow’s Mural Arts Program, “a public art initiative that promotes history, culture, diversity and creativity.” 

“Willey was the first artist I reached out to paint for the program,” says Pizzuto, a Pennsylvania native and chair of the Mural Arts Program. “I was lucky to get him because he paints all over the world.”

Joleen Champi from Scranton Ballet, Rose-Randazzo Pizzuto, and Matt Willey. Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Pizzuto.

His interest in art and activism made Willey an attractive candidate for the program, says Pizzuto. He’s painted 50 murals through The Good of the Hive, a global art project he started in 2015. He’s well on his way to painting 50,000 bees worldwide.

Willey’s work may be seen in Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington and Washington, D.C. His bees were exhibited in Beijing, China, while several buzz away on a school building in the United Kingdom. 

“Willey sends a message that interconnects many cities and towns across the world with bees,” Pizzuto says. “It was a cool subject matter during COVID-19 because we were all in it together, just like the bees in the hive.”

It took time to find the right wall for the mural. The Scranton Civic Ballet Company agreed to a two-story mural on the side of its building downtown. The Wright Center, a community health organization, was a premiere donor for the project.

It took Willey six weeks to paint the mural in 2022. The idea for the design came to him when a group of younger dancers filed past him. 

“When I went to visit, there were all these little girls in tutus,” Willey explains. “I just couldn’t get this picture of a big bumblebee with a tutu on out of my brain. I put a big fat bumble bee with a tutu (in the center) and designed the rest of the mural around that. I have not anthropomorphized a bee in that way before. It just felt right to do.”

ballet dancers in front of mural
Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Pizzuto.

Finding a mission

Willey earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. He’s been a self-employed artist since graduation, painting murals in homes and businesses throughout the United States. 

In Willey’s 2020 TedTalk, he shares his story with a Tennessee audience, “The mission is to get people curious about the planet we live on through the lens of art, bees, and storytelling. And my vision is, if all goes as planned, is a world filled with people who see and experience the connectedness of all things.”

His first mural, as part of The Good of the Hive, was in LaBelle, Florida, and became a water stop for the Pan-Florida Challenge, a bike ride in Southwest Florida to raise money for cancer prevention research and patient support. 

On that day, Travis Suit, an activist and media producer, introduced himself to Willey. A bee was sitting on Suit’s shoulder. 

“Travis said to me, ‘This bee is telling me to come talk to you,’” Willey remembers. “At this point, I am completely listening to bees.”

The conversation between Suit and Willey led to a discussion about how many bees make for a healthy hive. Willey had recently learned that 30,000 to 60,000 bees constitute a healthy hive. Suit asked Willey if he could paint 50,000 bees. 

“It was the second lightning bolt moment in this process,” Willey explains. “I am going to see if I can do it.”

A feature-length film about the first 10,000 bees painted is expected to be released in Spring 2025. “It’s the origin story, but it’s also about what I’ve learned,” Willey says. “The arc of the film goes from the individual, me, to building toward collective action.”

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  • Vanessa Infanzon

    Vanessa Infanzon moved from New York to North Carolina for college and never left. When she’s not writing, she’s paddle boarding on a river.

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