BALTIMORE, Md. — In neighborhoods and city parks in parts of the country, Americans are being greeted by the distinct buzzing sound of cicadas emerging after nearly two decades of growing underground. And their reemergence has become an inspiration for an unusual public art exhibit in Baltimore, Maryland.
That sound that millions of Americans are hearing as cicadas emerge from hibernation is the male species of the bug working as quickly as possible to attract a female to mate with. They have six weeks to live before they die.
And entomologist Dr. Sammy Ramsey has never been more excited.
"They're all singing together. They make this beautiful chorus and it rings out through the trees,” said Ramsey.
After 17 years in the ground, he's watching as cicadas have started to emerge across the country.
"The only thing they have to do at this point, mate," he added.
But these cicadas appearing across the country, are also inspiring an invasion of another kind, an invasion of art.
Cicadas are nothing, if not punctual. Which has given artist Michael Bowman the last year to plan and to create.
The former IT professional turned artist has transformed his backyard in downtown Baltimore into a studio. And with the help of some plaster of Paris, he's created hundreds of cicada sculptures that are taking flight all over the city.
"We've got bugs going all over the place," Bowman said on a recent Tuesday afternoon as he worked to paint one of his creations.
Bowman has strategically plotted trees around the city of Baltimore for the bugs to land on. It's part of a project Bowman has aptly named, "Cicada Parade-a." The idea was able to take flight thanks to some publicly funded grants that Bowman received from the state of Maryland.
"There’s a big part of public art. That’s like having a kid go to college, have it ready do your best work and send it off knowing full well you may not be seeing it again," Bowman explained as he worked to secure one of his plaster bugs to a tree in a Baltimore city park.
For Bowman though, the most important part of "Cicada Parade-a" is that it be enjoyed by the public. So, every day after he spends hours hanging the plaster sculptures, he heads home to post a picture of each one on a website created specifically for the project. An interactive map helps people track down the exact location of each bug. Bowman estimates about 400 or so have already taken flight.
All of them are being painted by local artists.
"It’s nice to get them up in the tree and share them with tens of thousands of people, which is more than any gallery show I could put on," he added.
The symbolic timing of this whole thing is not lost on Bowman either. As cicadas emerge from 17 years of hibernation, humans are doing much of the same after a year spent hiding because of COVID-19.
"I’m sort of shocked I’m the only one doing a cicada thing. I’ve been waiting for it for years," Bowman said.
The insects with a few weeks left to live are getting the chance to be immortalized through art.