A Pollinator Garden in a Book

May 8, 2019

By: Colleen Sheehy

Pollinators at the Plains: Christine Baeumler’s Defiant Garden for Plains Art Museum presents one of the major ArtPlace America projects undertaken by Plains Art Museum, Fargo, ND, as part of “Defiant Gardens for Fargo Moorhead.” It was a minor miracle, indeed, to be able to document the dramatic story of The Pollinator Garden for Plains Art Museum over several years, a project led by environmental artist Christine Baeumler. So many people contributed over many years.

I had conceived of the Defiant Gardens project when I was Director and CEO at the Museum in 2008 after settling into the community and beginning to learn its needs to advance its public spaces. A national conference was followed by artists proposing Defiant Garden projects that would re-vitalize different areas of Fargo-Moorhead. Christine’s project for the Museum’s urban campus transformed cement parking lots into profuse gardens to support bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds—while also nurturing cohorts of young people who became advocates and leaders in Buzz Lab. The gardens—which include a small urban orchard and small vegetable garden--create an urban oasis amid streets, sidewalks, and buildings. Her project was only realized because of ArtPlace’s significant investment as well as support from the Bush Foundation.

I find it very moving that, with a grant from ArtPlace in 2013, the Pollinator Garden is still thriving in 2019. The youth program is thriving, and more places in downtown Fargo feature biodiverse green spaces. These are the powerful seeds planted by Christine Baeumler.  Now, the book will share this ArtPlace project with people far and wide.


To celebrate this occasion, I want to share insights from those who continue to support the Gardens and the Buzz Lab.

Andrew Maus, current Director and CEO at Plains Art Museum, comments:

Through creativity and critical thinking, artists and art museums are frequently showing us what is possible. North Dakota, for example, despite being the top honey producing state in the country, has vast areas of rural and urban spaces that are destructive or unfriendly to pollinators. Prior to the creation of the Pollinator Garden at Plains Art Museum, much of downtown Fargo was one of these spaces – a place that was almost entirely absent of organic material or green space.  What if public art and public space were not just about art and design elements of color and composition, but, in addition, were a multi-disciplinary, educational tool?


Artist Christine Baeumler reflects:

The ongoing commitment and imaginative collaboration of museum staff with me as the lead artist, as well as with other artists, scientists, and community members have been a truly remarkable journey. The youth interns, many of whom have participated for the past five years, have become powerful voices not only on behalf of pollinators but also active in other critical issues, such as climate change. For me, this project has grown beyond a public art project. The true legacy of this program are the youth who are becoming leaders in environmental causes, who will continue to insist that our urban spaces can be spaces for many species, not only humans.


Netha Cloeter, Plains Art Museum Director of Education and Community Engagement, adds:

Each year, Buzz Lab opens a different lens on the core problem of insect decline and the systems that impact this issue, and the interns grapple with this crucial and complex problem through experiential and project-based learning. We equip Buzz Lab interns with the knowledge, leadership skills, and confidence they need to confront challenges in the world, including (but not limited to) the pollinator crisis. As a former intern noted, “It is difficult to choose just one significant thing I’ve learned from Buzz Lab… I have learned so much information about pollinators, native plants, ecosystems, and so on; but I have also learned countless life lessons. Because we always have group projects going on during the internship, I have learned how to step up as a leader, a skill I never had before Buzz Lab. I have learned that being a leader doesn’t mean being the boss, being a leader means helping others, and making sure everyone in a group has a voice.”


In closing, I also want to note that Christine Baeumler and staff at Plains Art Museum prioritize recruiting a diverse group of young people for Buzz Lab, including Native American, African immigrant, and Latino youth. Buzz Lab is helping to develop leaders in a new generation who will continue to insist that our urban environments include green spaces that support diverse ecosystems, including insects and birds.  This is the kind of long-term earth- supporting vitality and sustainability that an artist and ArtPlace have made possible.


Gratitude abounds!


Colleen Sheehy is currently Executive Director of Public Art Saint Paul.


Pollinators at the Plains can be ordered through the Plains Art Museum Store. Contact tscott [at]