Date: April 15, 2008
Byline: Bobbie Hanstein
American flags on floor cause a stir
FARMINGTON — American flags set in a maze-like pattern, creating a path on the hallway floor in the University of Maine at Farmington student center sparked angry emotions among some of those who happened on the display.
As part of a class assignment, UMF education major student Susan Crane made American flags, some as large as three-foot by six-foot and hundreds of smaller, three-inch by six inches in size, out of red, white and blue vinyl and duct tape to replicate the flag. At 6 a.m. Tuesday, she placed the flags on paper set in a pattern on the floor so pedestrians would need to either walk on the flags or in the maze path to get through the hallway.
Part way through the day, the vinyl on the paper became too slippery, so she took the paper up and left the flags on the floor.
The flag installation was for an art in politics class assignment, taught by Kate Randall, which required students to execute a social experiment. Crane wanted to see if people — mostly students — would walk around or over the flags. Crane videotaped people from the knees down to document their chosen path.
"Ninety-five to 98 percent of the people didn't walk on the flags," Crane said of her findings. The other reaction she was hoping for was one of thoughtful reflection on his or her individual patriotism.
"It sparked conversation and thought about how we feel about our flag, which I think is very important. It was a very hard thing for me to do, to put the flag on the floor," she said.
More than conversation, it also ignited angry comments from those who identified themselves as veterans or republicans.
"The strong emotions caught me by surprise. The veterans said, 'a lot of people died for that flag,'" Crane said. "I had a hard time with it. Most others asked 'what's this about?'"
At 4 p.m., a fire marshal arrived and said the flag display was in violation of the fire code and asked that all the flags be placed against one side of the hallway, which effectively removed the maze and, with it, the decision to walk around it or through the display. Crane, with her parents there for support of her project, helped her move the flags over. The assignment called for her to leave it up for 24 hours but Crane decided once the fire marshal had left to pick up the flags.
A little less than an hour later across campus, Theo Kalikow, UMF's president, opened the two-day campus-wide symposium noting the anger some had felt with the flag display.
"Art in all its forms is important. The anger that was experienced today. Students push the boundary of what learning is. First Amendment rights, freedom of expression. We share in a state of expression," Kalikow said, before the concert of 50 cars performing in, "Car Afterlife" was about to begin.
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