Mural brings the rustypatched bumblebee back to Ohio

Across the tallgrass prairies of the midwestern United States, rusty patched bumblebees (Bombus affnis) once thrived in a landscape rich with native plants providing nectar and shelter. Today, the rusty patched bumblebee is listed under the Endangered Species Act, and since 2003 has rarely been observed in the landscapes where this bee historically ranged. As a result of habitat loss and land use conversion to agriculture, the habitat that the rustypatched bumblebee needs has been dramatically altered.

Through the power of visual artwork for biodiversity conservation, the rustypatched bumblebee is once again visible in Ohio. As part of the Endangered Species Act 50th Anniversary National Mural Project, artist Kenia Lamarr created and installed a rusty patched bumblebee in the Linden neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. Kenia collaborated with community partners, including Sunny Glen Garden, local businesses, educators, youth, and other artists to identify a high-visibility location for the mural. Kenia’s rustypatched bumblebee mural will be the backdrop for a major pollinator festival in Linden, in June 2024, including native plant giveaways, habitat installation, educational opportunities, and community celebration.

Watch this great video  of Kenia at work on the mural, in collaboration with local youth and artist partners, by Mikel Wilson/Mizzel Enterprises. You can see more of her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram, @kenialamarr

Jeanne Dodds, Endangered Species Coalition Creative Engagement Director, chats with Artist Kenia Lamarr about her creative practice and the impact of art for communities and biodiversity conservation.

Jeanne Dodds: Can you talk to us a bit about how you got started as an artist and muralist?

Kenia Lamarr: My journey as an artist and muralist began over a decade ago when I received formal visual arts training at a performing arts school in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. This foundational experience provided me with the skills and inspiration to explore various forms of creative expression.

During my time at the school, I had the opportunity to participate in live painting events for notable platforms such as TedX Dayton, which allowed me to showcase my talents and connect with a broader audience. Additionally, I interned for a curator at the Dayton Art Institute, where I gained valuable insights into the art world and honed my craft further.

My creative portfolio is a kaleidoscope of vibrant portraiture, infused with the rich tapestry of mixed media and the intricate layers of human experiences. Influenced by my travels and spiritual awakening, I discovered the profound significance of color in healing practices across cultures—from psychology to Reiki, and the ancient wisdom of Yoruba.

As I continued to develop as an artist, I found myself drawn to the medium of public art and murals. The idea of creating large-scale works of art that could transform public spaces and evoke emotions in viewers deeply resonated with me. Inspired by the vibrant colors and diverse textures found in street art and graffiti, I began experimenting with mural painting techniques and exploring themes related to human nature and community. Whether I’m painting a mural for a local community project or collaborating with fellow artists on a large-scale installation, my goal remains the same: to inspire and uplift others through the transformative power of art.

JD:  Your rusty patched bumblebee mural was created for the National Mural Project for the 50th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Why do you think it’s important to recognize this conservation milestone through murals? 

KL: Creating the rusty patched bumblebee mural for the National Mural Project celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act was a deeply meaningful experience for me. I believe it’s incredibly important to recognize conservation milestones like this through public art displays for several reasons.

Firstly, murals have a unique ability to capture attention and spark conversations. By immortalizing endangered species such as the rusty patched bumblebee in public spaces, we achieve more than just raising awareness for the imperative need for conservation efforts; we inadvertently nurture community bonds. For instance, numerous individuals have paused at the mural to share their reflections, yet one woman’s poignant tale stands out. She revealed a profound connection to bumblebees during her cancer treatment, underscoring the mural’s capacity to resonate on deeply personal levels. These murals serve as poignant reminders not solely of the biodiversity crisis confronting our planet, but also as conduits for the shared human experiences that unite us all.

Secondly, murals have the potential to foster a sense of connection and empathy towards nature. When people see these larger-than-life representations of endangered species in their communities, they’re more likely to develop a deeper appreciation for the natural world and the importance of preserving it for future generations.

Furthermore, murals have the capacity to inspire hope and drive positive change. By celebrating milestones like the 50th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act through public art, we’re sending a message of resilience and determination.

Recognizing conservation milestones through art is a powerful way to educate, inspire, and mobilize communities towards a more sustainable and harmonious relationship with the planet. It’s a visual representation of our commitment to protecting biodiversity and ensuring a thriving future for all species.

JD: You are involved in a lot of impactful outreach to local youth and educators to include young people in your work. Why is this connection to local youth, and their access to art opportunities, important to you?

KL: The connection to local youth and their access to art opportunities holds profound significance for me on both a personal and societal level. As an artist, I believe in the transformative power of creativity to shape young minds and inspire future generations. By engaging with local youth and educators, I strive to cultivate a sense of empowerment and self-expression through artistic endeavors.

First and foremost, providing art opportunities to young people fosters creativity and critical thinking skills essential for their personal and academic growth. Moreover, art serves as a universal language that transcends cultural barriers and allows young people to express themselves authentically. By connecting with local youth through art, we create inclusive spaces where diverse perspectives are valued and celebrated. This fosters a sense of belonging and strengthens community bonds, ultimately contributing to a more vibrant and resilient society. The young participants who contributed to the mural are residents of the neighborhood, offering them an opportunity to play an active role in enhancing the beauty of their community.

In an age where young people face numerous challenges, including academic pressure, social media influence, and mental health concerns, art can serve as a source of solace and resilience. Ultimately, my commitment to connecting with local youth and providing access to art opportunities stems from a belief in the transformative potential of creativity to uplift individuals and communities alike.

I founded Got It N’ Us, an organization dedicated to fostering the creative spirit within underserved communities by offering accessible art enrichment programs and opportunities. Our mission is to empower individuals to express themselves through art, particularly in areas with limited cultural resources. In the fall of 2022, we partnered with the Linden community to launch The Coloring Linden Project. This initiative provided a safe and nurturing environment for Linden youth and community members to channel their creativity into constructive outlets. Through collaborative efforts, we transformed the neighborhood by completing community sculptures at two local recreation centers, offering a tangible and meaningful way for residents to beautify their surroundings and cultivate a sense of pride in their community.

JD:  Speaking broadly, how do you see the role of visual arts in communicating the incredible biodiversity of species – along with the urgent need for species conservation?

KL: Visual arts play a pivotal role in communicating the incredible biodiversity of species and the urgent need for species conservation by tapping into the universal language of imagery and emotion. Through the skillful use of color, form, and symbolism, we as artists and creatives have the power to evoke visceral responses and provoke thought on complex environmental issues.

Firstly, visual art has the ability to capture the beauty and intricacy of the natural world in ways that words alone cannot. It serves as a powerful tool for raising awareness about the threats facing endangered species and habitats.

Moreover, public art installations have the potential to mobilize action and drive positive change. By portraying the consequences of inaction alongside visions of a sustainable future, artists can inspire viewers to become advocates for conservation efforts in their own communities and beyond. It serves as a catalyst for education, empathy, and action, amplifying the voices of scientists, conservationists, and activists striving to protect our planet’s precious natural heritage.

JD: What was your experience like working on the rusty patched bumblebee mural specifically? What did you learn about this bumblebee species by making it the subject of your creative work?

KL: Working on the rusty patched bumblebee mural was a profoundly enriching experience for me on both a creative and educational level. As I delved into researching and depicting this endangered species, I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for its importance in our ecosystem.

Firstly, the process of creating the mural allowed me to immerse myself in the world of the rusty patched bumblebee, learning about its habitat, behavior, and role as a pollinator. Through this exploration, I discovered the intricate beauty of the species, from its distinctive coloration to its fascinating lifecycle.

Furthermore, I learned about the significant threats facing the rusty patched bumblebee, including habitat loss, pesticide exposure, and disease. This knowledge deepened my commitment to raising awareness about the plight of endangered species and the urgent need for conservation efforts.

JD: What are your hopes and visions for how the Columbus, Ohio communities, and specifically the Linden neighborhood, will interact with or learn from your mural?

KL: My vision for the Linden neighborhood, as an underserved community, is focused on empowerment, resilience, and social equity.

I hope the mural serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for residents of Linden, offering a visual representation of their community’s strength and resilience. By insisting on Linden youth participate in the creation process and showcasing the beauty of biodiversity and the importance of conservation, I aimed to instill a sense of pride and ownership among residents, reminding them that their voices matter and their neighborhood belongs to them.

Furthermore, I hope the mural sparks conversations about the environmental challenges facing underserved communities like Linden and encourages residents to advocate for equitable access to green spaces, clean air, and healthy food options. By raising awareness about these issues, I believe the mural has the potential to mobilize residents to demand positive change and work together to create a more sustainable and equitable future for their neighborhood. Ultimately, my vision for the mural in Linden is one of empowerment, education, and community building.

JD: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your creative practice, the ESA at 50 National

KL: My involvement in the ESA at 50 National Mural Project reaffirmed my belief in the power of art as a tool for social and environmental advocacy. Murals have the ability to reach diverse audiences and spark meaningful conversations, making them a powerful medium for raising awareness and inspiring action on critical issues.

As we reflect on the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, I am reminded of the urgent need to redouble our efforts to protect and conserve the incredible diversity of life on Earth. Through collaborative initiatives like the ESA at 50 National Mural Project, we can harness the transformative power of art to ignite positive change and build a more sustainable and equitable world for all species, including our own.

ESA at 50 National Mural Project

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, Endangered Species Coalition Member Organizations and community partners collaborated to create a series of murals throughout the US. The murals spotlight regional ecological and cultural diversity within the US and internationally, highlighting plants and animals protected by the Endangered Species Act. Species currently listed and in danger of extinction are featured, along with species recovered thanks to this landmark legislation.

Many of our ESA at 50 National Mural Project sites were created with leadership by ESC Pollinator Protectors planting partners. These projects increase the visibility of local native plants and pollinators , and engage local artists and communities to recognize the 2023 50th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Many thanks to Sunny Glen Garden/Dianne Kadonaga and Center for Biological Diversity/Roger Peet for supporting the planning and implementation of the Linden mural, and huge thanks to ESC Member Organizations, for contributing project funding.

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