Friday, April 18, 2008

Flag project hits nerve

University student Susan Crane of Auburn got an unexpected emotional response Tuesday when she laid out her art project of U.S. flags on the floor of the Olsen Student Center.

Her purpose was to find out how people felt about Old Glory, and her gauge was whether they would walk around them or on them.

Other students said they didn't see a problem with the display.

Crane, 40, a senior majoring in education, had placed large and small flags on the floor in a zig-zag pattern that created a path through the main corridor.

"I did a lot of research surrounding the flag," she said, before deciding to do the project.

"My purpose was to figure out how people felt about the flag and gave them a choice to walk around it. And then what it really became is our First Amendment that everybody has a choice to say what they believe. I expected it to be controversial but not as controversial as it has become."

The project was not an easy choice for her, she said.

"I really had a hard time putting the flags on the floor. I'm a conservative Republican, and I come from a military family," she said. "I do believe in the flag as a symbol of freedom and what our country stands for. I first thought I could put paper under the flags but it was a safety hazard. I still really have not come to terms that the flags are on the floor. So that bothered me. I understand veterans fought in the war, and they died for our freedom. Other people have the choice to feel how they would interpret it."

Crane's professor of visual arts, Katrazyna Randall, had asked students to do a project that could be either guerrilla art or a social experiment. The latter is when artists use visual communication to foster a response from their art, which will generally shed light on social behavior or a political issue, Randall said.

Crane had 24 hours to display her project but expected to take it down by 6 p.m., way ahead of the 4 a.m. deadline Wednesday.

"The best part about this whole thing," Crane said, "is that it has made people stop and think about what is important to them."

Veteran Charles Bennett of Farmington sat on one to protect it from being walked on. Other veterans and students asked Crane to pick them up, saying it was disrespectful and desecrating.

Bennett had explained to Crane why the flag shouldn't be on the ground and volunteered to help her pick them up. She declined.

"Don't desecrate it by putting it on the ground," Bennett said.

Flag etiquette states that a flag should never touch anything beneath it and if it does, it should be moved.

Bennett started to pick up flags but was stopped by UMF Public Safety Director Ted Blais, who told him if he continued, he would be arrested.

"He cannot damage her project. He cannot take apart her project. This is her art project. She has the right to have a project here, and if he starts taking it apart, I have to stop him," Blais said. "I've been impressed how people have been respectful of the flag."

Farmington firefighters were on hand after a student complained the floor project was a hazard and hindered egress.

UMF President Theo Kalikow said Crane followed UMF policies and procedures, watched for handicap accessibility and complied with all recommendations. And the university's attorney advised Crane had the right to do the display.

"It's her project. ... I think the student wanted to find out what would happen and she did. This is a learning environment," Kalikow said. "It's personally repugnant to me to have the flag on the floor. I would never do this, but I have to protect the project."

Crane's father, John McIlhinney of North Windham, retired from the U.S. Coast Guard, said he supported his daughter.

"There is no law against it. I wouldn't step on it, but there is no law against it," McIlhinney said.

6:42 worth of youtube footage.....


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