Cristina Echezarreta

Cristina Echezarreta at Arrendale prison with Julia Mahood painting decorating bee boxes (as part of the bee prison project)

Artist Cristina Echezarreta focuses on two very non-traditional subjects – prison populations and honeybees – for her research as a master’s student in the Lamar Dodd School of Art.

With a post-graduation goal of working in a science museum, Echezarreta chose this graduate program to facilitate her creative approach to communicating scientific information.

“I was searching for a school with an excelling Master of Fine Arts program along with strong, flourishing agricultural disciplines,” she explains.

Echezarreta knew found the right graduate program when she read about the UGA Honeybee Laboratory and the interdisciplinary faculty at the Lamar Dodd School of Art.

Originating in 2014, the UGA Honeybee Lab and Georgia Beekeeping Association began the Georgia beekeeping prison project in an effort to introduce additional certification programs into correctional facilities across Georgia and to teach inmates a vocational skill that can be used as a trade in the event they are eligible for release.

Quickly realizing that she wanted to merge her studio practice with other disciplines,

Echezarreta began working with the program in 2018.

Echezarreta also credits her advisor, Michael Marshall, with encouraging and even helping to fund her interdisciplinary project.

She is also a member of Marshall’s interdisciplinary Social Ecology Studio – an experimental arts research lab with a mission to initiate and facilitate collaborative projects with scientific and social researchers across the University of Georgia campus.

“I truly believe working interdisciplinarily has enriched my graduate experience at UGA, she says. “This research has taught me how to use art beyond a gallery setting and science beyond a lab setting, and how art and science can ‘cross-pollinate’ to educate individuals outside an academic environment.”

In her work with local prison populations, Echezarreta incorporates art and beekeeping by encouraging the inmates to make collective decisions much like honeybees do when choosing how they want to create their hive boxes.

Referred to as hive mind behavior, Echezarreta explains that in order to sustain their beehive, the inmates must function as a collective and put another’s interest above their own.

In the same manner, the western honeybees (Apis mellifera) work collectively to sustain the health and livelihood of their hive; they cooperate to serve a colony’s common interest.

“I [became] interested in the hive mind behavior within colonies and the behavior of those incarcerated within prisons, both the differences and the similarities, but mainly the similarities.”

“For me, the importance of introducing fine arts in prison systems in conjunction with beekeeping is to work collaboratively but also to observe behavior.”

“Both beekeeping and art are very similar, they both take patience, time, trial and error, and most of a valuable reward at the end. Using the knowledge in keeping bees and applying it to a creative practice promotes community.”

She shares how these social dynamics – both between the prisoners and the honeybees – fuel her creativity.

“I’m interested in how social animals make group decisions, specifically when those animals share the same environment,” she explains. “I question the ways that individuals in prisons and honeybees can emulate the same behavioral characteristics, and how can we as people use the same methods as honeybees to make decisions.

“I truly enjoy working with honeybees, people, and going back to my studio and challenging myself to consider what my role is in the project and as an artist.”

After graduation, Echezzarreta plans to continue combining the arts and sciences and looks forward to working with science museums to promote the sciences in creative ways.

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