Meet Shellbee, Bee in the City’s interactive bee

If you’ve been out and about in Manchester over the past couple of months, you’ve no doubt seen the giant bees that have landed across the city. Wild in Art’s Bee in the City has created quite the buzz. Developed as a public art event to inspire a sense of community and raise money for the We Love MCR Charity, over 200 bright and colourful worker bees have made themselves at home this summer in our buildings, streets and gardens.

The bees have been created by artists, schools and community groups. Each and every bee is an individual and their blank canvases have been painted and transformed to tell their own unique story. The swarm of bees is diverse and eclectic, but one bee that stands out from the rest of the hive is Shellbee.

“Shellbee brings art into the community and allows us all to experience Bee in the City through textures, sounds, vibrations and a world of colour”

Currently nesting in the Royal Exchange Theatre, Shellbee came to life in the art room at Seashell Trust’s Royal School Manchester. The students at the Royal School have various and complex sensory impairments and so Shellbee was designed to be interactive and to stimulate our senses. The pupils got hands on and helped Seashell Trust’s brilliantly talented art teacher, Lauren Mullarkey, to devise and develop the creative elements that came together to inject a little magic in to this very special bee. The students used their fantastic and bold imaginations to mix colours and shapes to make the stained glass for the wings, they used precision and skill to print and glaze the honeycomb tiles and worked together to create the striking fused glass pieces that sparkle on Shellbee.

Royal Manchester School staff having fun with Shellbee
Royal Manchester School staff having fun with Shellbee

To ensure that Shellbee was as life-like and interactive as possible, the Royal School called on some friends to help with this very important project. Chris Emerson, viola player for the Hallé Orchestra, used his musical talents to produce the buzzing noise that Shellbee emits when you touch her soft and fuzzy body. Chris played around with many weird and wonderful instruments (including a didgeridoo!) and married their sounds together to create the perfect buzz. Stevie Williams then mastered the sound to ensure that Seashell’s newest student was emitting the right resonance. Once the sound had been perfected, it was time for Chris Ball to step in and conduct some technical wizardry. Shellbee was gifted a pair of multi-coloured flashing eyes and fitted with fabulously clever devices that triggered vibrations and the buzz. Aided by the incredible knitting-power of Jean Barratt, a woolly jumper was created for Shellbee that decorates her body. Metallic flecks in the wool assist in generating Shellbee’s interactive powers when touched. A stroke of her golden jumper sparks off the circuit that brings life to her eyes and encourages her to vibrate and buzz. To put the final cherry on the cake, Shellbee’s beautiful wings took flight with the brilliant craftsmanship of Christian Knott, as he pieced together the jigsaw of stained glass that helped her soar.

Shellbee has received lots of attention for her beauty and creativity during the art trail. Having watched the faces of children and adults light up when they touch and interact with her, it’s evident to see how loved she is as part of Bee in the City. With her various quirks and sensory additions, Seashell Trust have made art accessible to individuals that would normally feel excluded from traditional art settings. They were able to do this through the generous sponsorship of Sanjay Mulchand at Laltex who funded the Trust on their Wild in Art journey. We’re incredibly fortunate that Sanjay made this happen, as Shellbee brings art into the community and allows us all to experience Bee in the City through textures, sounds, vibrations and a world of colour.

The city has been stunned by the impressive display of beauty that our winged friends have brought to Manchester’s centre and suburbs. Bee in the City will run until 23 September, so you still have time to see Shellbee and her friends before they depart for their new homes. After the art trail, Shellbee will be returning to Seashell Trust, where she will be welcomed back by the staff and students that have missed her at the Royal School Manchester.

Access information - If you are a wheelchair user and you would like to visit Shellbee at the Royal Exchange, the accessible entrance is based in St Ann’s Square. For more detailed access information, please visit the Royal Exchange website.

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