Small Bee, Big Buzz

My name is Matthew Willey. I am an artist and the founder of The Good Of The Hive. I’ve personally committed to hand-painting 50,000 individual honeybees in murals around the world to help raise awareness about their importance. I met Bee Downtown a little over a year ago, and we have kept up ever since as our love for the bees and this beautiful world have forged a strong bond between two dreamers! I often paint very large-scale murals, but I recently had the opportunity to paint a bee much smaller than usual – a bee that has already created a change for the better in the world. I’d love to share the brave story of a boy named Xander who is using his life to also help us spread the message of the honeybees!


The Good of the Hive painted our biggest bees yet (over 21 feet each) in Lyons, Nebraska last month and then went immediately into painting the smallest of the initiative, thus far, with one, tiny, bee on a Cochlear implant receiver being put on an 11 year-old boy named Xander. If you haven’t ever heard of these, check them out! They are fascinating! http://www.cochlear.com/wps/wcm/connect/us/home

Xander slowly went from perfect hearing as a baby to over 80% hearing loss in his left ear by the time he was 9. Last month he got the implant put in surgically and last Tuesday they hooked up the receiver. The Good of the Hive was there for it, and later that day I painted a bee on the magnetic disc that connects the implant to the receiver. Xan is now the youngest inspiration of the initiative yet! Personally, I think he is incredible for wanting to do this. I am pretty sure that when I was 11, I would have been trying like hell to make my hearing aid device as unnoticed as possible. But Xan chose to use this challenge to raise awareness (and turn up some volume!) onthe issues surrounding honeybees. He is a rockstar in my book no matter how you look at it!


This all started while I was on the farm in Nebraska, and attempting to scroll through facebook with little or no internet or cell service. I happened to see a post by his mom, Meghan, offering three choices in color for Xan’s new receiver. He was trying to decide between black, dark grey and white. I (somewhat seriously) commented, “The magnetic part would make a nice little canvas for a bee.” I got a pretty quick response that moved us from somewhat serious to full in. And Xan was inspired by the idea to take it a step further and start talking to people about the bees when they ask him about the receiver. The receiver is a natural attention grabber. And in a battle to keep raising awareness about the bees, creativity and magnetism are key.

Xan lives a block away from the mural I painted on the fire station in Carrboro, NC so he knew all about the initiative and the bees and saw this as an opportunity to help. I saw his enthusiasm as an example of the mural working to raise awareness beyond the act of making it!

My hope is that the murals have a life beyond the experience we create while I am there painting. I permanently put bees in place in the hope that they continue to invoke thought and engagement. It was a theory at first, but Xan is an example that it is working. I have also gone back to Estes Hills in Chapel Hill and talked with students about the bees and activist art. I have gone back to Burt’s Bees several times to present… and now Xan is advocating in Carrboro.  My painted bees don’t pollinate or sting, but, no matter where I paint, there is always a bee and a story surrounding our connection to these remarkable creatures.


Bees communicate through the vibration of the honeycomb in their hives, much like we communicate through talking and listening in our communities.

“Hearing” in my layman’s understanding is all about vibration… for us and for the bees. Bees don’t have ears, but they use a section of their antennas to ‘feel’ vibrations in the hive, which translate as a version of hearing for them. They also vibrate their wings in specific ways during several of their dances, which are one of the bees’ most mind-bending forms of communication. The fact that Xan is going to have more than 80% of his hearing back in his left ear within a month is huge with or without a bee on it. But knowing that Xan was motivated to help raise awareness through this challenge speaks to who he is as a human. One man cannot fix the problems for the bees. But one man (or boy) can inspire… and Xan has inspired me to keep looking for unlikely connections. Because sometimes when two unlikely things collide, they create sparks of awareness through curiosity… and where there are sparks there is the possibility of igniting change.

Written by: Matthew Willey, Founder- The Good Of The Hive