Spirit of Southern Arizona

On December 27th, 2011 the Tucson International Airport released news of a Solar Sculpture commission awarded to a collaboration between Dr. Stephen Fairfield of Fairfield Enterprises, Dr. Patrick Marcus of Marcus Engineering, and Emily Taylor of Taylor Design, Inc. Four months later the Airport dedicated the Spirit of Southern Arizona just prior to a Tucson Airport Authority Board meeting. “We intended to create an iconic solar-powered public art sculpture at Tucson International Airport that would welcome visitors and residents with its ever-changing colors and patterns and advance Tucson as the nation’s premier solar city. We hope that in some small way we have made inroads in these goals,” said Lead Artist Stephen Fairfield.

The sculpture is nearly twenty feet tall, made from polished stainless steel, and incorporates high intensity solar powered LED lighting which changes through a rainbow of pleasing color patterns as motion sensors are triggered by passers-by.

The commission is another demonstration of Tucson’s solar leadership and will serve as an inspiration to visitors and residents alike.   “It is truly amazing what we can accomplish within the bounds of responsible energy use and sustainability.”  said Dr. Marcus. “Our new media art and solar powered works harness the human senses to change the way we view art.”

Premier solar manufacturer Global Solar Energy donated more than $1,000 in flexible solar panels to the project.  Global Solar has been a long time member of the community supplying jobs and a base of advanced thin film solar cell development technologies.

The design of the sculpture takes advantage of Neuroscience, Engineering, and Sustainability to create a truly unique blend between the disciplines.  Advanced psychophysical algorithms harness the human ability to sense light intensity to provide maximum perceived brightness and color change while simultaneously minimizing the use of electricity.

“Simple thoughtful design makes a big difference.” said Dr. Marcus.  For instance, when the sculpture senses that people are not around and cars are not driving by, it still looks great, but reduces its power consumption by 70%.  When that red eye comes in though, passengers will be greeted by a brilliant full power display.  “Conserving energy when people aren’t around just makes good sense.”

The Spirit of Southern Arizona is more than a technical wonder. Six circular medallions, fabricated by David McMahon, encircle the sculpture’s base, representing southern Arizona’s past and present through images such as Tucson’s first airplane flight in 1910, a Tohono O’odham woman harvesting saguaro fruit and the University of Arizona’s radio telescope at Kitt Peak. Taking off from this cultural foundation is a futuristic airplane that leaves a sparkling contrail behind as it climbs into Arizona’s sky en route to the next 100 years of progress.

The idea of solar new media art isn’t entirely novel.  Marcus and Fairfield have been building solar power new media art sculptures for more than 10 years, having delivered exciting interactive works of art to Roanoke, VA; Green Bay, WI; Frankenmuth, MI; Champaign-Urbana, IL; Phoenix and Tucson, AZ.

In 2011 at a Solar Roundtable discussion hosted by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords there was discussion of solar powered sculptures in and around Tucson.  The roundtable was attended by individuals dedicated to, and interested in, Tucson’s solar initiatives including Mayor Bob Walkup, Tucson Electric Power Company CEO Paul Bonavia, and Tucson Airport Authority President and CEO Bonnie Allin.

There is a lot to be said for place marking Solar Sculptures as being potential beacons throughout the community highlighting Tucson’s dedication to our solar future as well as beautifying our city in a unique and cohesive way.  Locations such as Tucson International Airport, The University of Arizona, Innovation Park in Oro Valley, The Solar Zone at the U of A Science and technology Park, as well as Downtown Tucson were all discussed as possible venues for such work.

The Spirit of Southern Arizona was selected as an Arizona Centennial Legacy project.  This honor is reserved for works which exemplify Arizona’s heritage, future and commitment.

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