Hive of Activity

Transforming under-utilized urban sites into esthetically pleasing and scientifically viable pollinator pastures.

ART, SCIENCE AND COMMUNITY ARE A POWERFUL COMBINATION to try to improve our relationship with the natural world. But it is this combination and a focus industrious little insects—bees—that’s resulting in community-driven reclamations.

Bees are an enchanting species. They are charismatic and incredibly important as pollinators. They are the ultimate networkers. A talk about bees can lead to a discussion about plants, which can quickly turn into a dialog about food, habitat, soil, air and water. Before you know it, a bee briefing can quickly turn into a conversation about an entire ecosystem.

That’s what inspired the Border Free Bees project run by Nancy Holmes, an associate professor of creative writing at UBC Okanagan and Cameron Cartiere, the dean of graduate studies at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. The international public art initiative focusses on native bees, raising awareness about pollinating insects and engaging communities to preserve and collectively create new habitats for pollinating allies.

“We work with gardening and conservation groups, public schools, university communities, kids, seniors, as many people as we can pull in,” says Holmes, an award-winning poet, writer, educator and researcher. “It is inspiring to see the ripple effects into the community as more and more people are taking on their own pollinator projects.”

“Art is the driver as we get people together and to care. Science provides the underpinning and community makes change happen. Bees engage everyone.”

The Border Free Bees initiative has sparked dozens of projects in Kelowna and metro Vancouver: gallery shows, restorations of barren lands, outdoor community art events, indoor community education activities, the planting of nectar trails spanning several kilometres, an educational mobile app and the co-creation of pollinator habitats on small parcels of parkland.

Border Free Bees has also garnered accolades for its engagement, including the 2017 Pollinator Advocate Award for Canada from the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, a collaborative body of more than 160 scientists, researchers, conservationists, government officials and volunteers focused on pollinator protectionism. Holmes herself has been named UBC Okanagan’s 2018 Researcher of the Year in Social Sciences and Humanities.

“Art is the driver as we get people together and to care. Science provides the underpinning and community makes change happen,” says Holmes. “Bees engage everyone.”


  • Bee populations have been declining to worrying levels.

  • Bee hotels—human-made ‘homes’ for pollinator bees—are starting to pop up as a way to help the species.

  • Brian Campbell, the seed master of West Coast Seeds of Delta BC, does his part to create pollinator habitats.

  • A closer look at a bee hotel.

  • A pollinator’s work is never done.

  • Artists create sculptural works evoking bumblebee nests on Kelowna’s Public Art Pollinator Pasture.