Now the wait is over. This evening's unveiling and dedication revealed the "Spirit of Southern Arizona," an 18-foot-high commemoration of Arizona's Centennial that serves as artistic and scientific link between the region's historic past and its technological future.
Six circular medallions 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.
Underlying the theme throughout is the history of aviation in southern Arizona and the importance of solar energy to the future. Photovoltaic solar panel collectors power numerous light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that deliver a constantly changing display of colored lights and patterns at night.
This week, the Arizona Historical Advisory Commission designated the sculpture as an Arizona Centennial Legacy Project. Criteria include accurate and educational portrayal of a significant aspect of Arizona history and production of an enduring product that will live on for future generations to enjoy.
"This is a proud occasion for TAA. We wanted to add a distinctive work to the airport's permanent collection to mark the Arizona Centennial and acknowledge the growing importance of solar energy in our region. The 'Spirit of Southern Arizona' is a beautiful way to do both," said TAA President/CEO Bonnie Allin.
The sculpture stands in a high-traffic spot, outside the rental car facility, adjacent to the exit lanes for the terminal roadway loop. Fairfield Enterprises LLC was selected to create it through a competitive call process that was open to individuals and groups within the airport's service area. Lead Artist Dr. Stephen Fairfield of Fairfield Enterprises collaborated with Electrical Engineer Dr. Patrick Marcus of Marcus Engineering and Emily Taylor of Emily Taylor Design.
According to Marcus, the sculpture's lighting effects harness the way humans sense light intensity to provide maximum perceived brightness and color change while simultaneously minimizing the use of electricity.
"Thoughtful design makes a big difference. When the sculpture senses that people are not around and cars are not driving by, it reduces its power consumption by four times. Conserving energy for active viewers just makes good sense," said Marcus.
On average, the sculpture consumes less power then a single 40W light bulb, yet produces almost 50 bulbs' worth of illumination during its most colorful states, Marcus said.
"TAA is pleased to mark the importance of renewable energy to our region by displaying this impressive and unique artwork in an area where it can be enjoyed by all," said Authority Chairman Tom Zlaket.
The Fairfield Enterprises group specializes in new media and interactive public art and have partnered on similar projects in Tucson, Glendale, California, Wisconsin and Virginia.
"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.