Last November my colleague returned from an annual New England-wide conference of arts presenters convened by the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA). He told me that when the attendees arrived, they were asked to place a sticky note on a map to indicate the venue location they represented. He said it was a very enlightening exercise, especially for the CCA, because it highlighted – in a very visual way – both our challenge and our opportunity of being a performing arts center in a remote area.
Thirty years ago, we heard Orono is “an unlikely spot to build a first-class arts facility” and that we’re too far away from “civilization.” Members of the Class of 1942 must have been hearing this criticism when they to commission noted Maine artist Clark Fitz-Gerald to create the Flame of Inspiration, the nearly two-ton, 21-foot brass sculpture for the Maine Center for the Art’s grand opening in 1986.
The piece was bold. Imposing. Impressive.
In 2007 when the Maine Center for the Arts underwent an extensive renovation, the space where the Flame hung no longer existed and the piece was placed in storage, its fate uncertain. But thanks to the strong advocacy of members of the Class of ’42, other alumni and many friends, an effort to “re-ignite” the Flame began and by early 2014, a plan was set in motion to study, fundraise, fix and permanently re-install the Flame of Inspiration.
The project really took shape when we identified the artist who would ultimately be responsible for returning the piece back to its original glory (with some modifications required for its new location within the CCA). Turns out the artist we found is Clark Fitz-Gerald’s son, Stephen – a noted sculptor himself who resides in California. Talk about “passing the torch.”
Stephen worked on the piece in the family’s Castine studio for two months in 2016, the same studio where the piece was originally conceived and created. While he was in Maine, he was asked many times about the piece and its meaning. I’ll admit, I asked as well. He said, “I think it probably means something different to everyone who looks at it. That’s what makes a piece of art great.”
I think the Flame of Inspiration was intended to serve as a cultural beacon, a light in the wilderness in our corner of the world expose to the citizens of Maine and the adjacent regions to things they may not otherwise have an opportunity to see.
We have been bringing world-class performances to Orono for 30 years now, and hope to be doing so for many decades to come. So whether you have been attending for 30 years or you’re here for the first time, thank you for supporting the CCA through your attendance and please come back again….we’ll leave the light on for you.
Danny Williams, Executive Director
Collins Center for the Arts