SARASOTA -- The nation's first national cemetery project funded by a private foundation has been launched with a preview of artists' plans for a 2,800-seat amphitheater and related artwork at Sarasota National Cemetery.
The art featured throughout the 1.83 acres honors veterans and their families from wars since the U.S. Civil War up to today, according to Sandy Beckley, initiative consultant for the Patterson Foundation, the private foundation sponsoring the $11 million Patriot Plaza.
No taxpayers' dollars will be used.
Once completed, the facility will stand at the assembly area of the Sarasota National Cemetery, a spot conventionally left to landscaping or benches.
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"When the Patterson Foundation came to the site, they wanted to know what they could do to enhance the cemetery," said Beckley, who then worked as cemetery director. "They were just bouncing ideas at that point. They picked their initiatives that they wanted to work on because they wanted to honor things that involved the Patterson family. That's why they picked the military."
Lead artist Larry Kirkland chose the theme "Service, Support, Sacrifice and Witness to Mission" for his tablets, which will be placed on small plazas along the area's north walkway. They focus on the experiences of being in the military service and of being in a military family.
"This art is about touching the soul as it honors our veterans," said Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of the Patterson Foundation. "This is a legacy to all generations, whether you are serving, have served, or know someone who has, you will feel the emotional story embodied in the art at Patriot Plaza."
Ellen Driscoll's mosaic-covered spires decorate the south walkway, inviting viewers to a space that is both intimate and contemplative within the larger architecture.
Sentinel Eagles were designed by Pablo Eduardo of Bolivia to evoke vigilance and a sense of majesty on the west entrance, while Ann Hirsh decorated two curved walls at the east entrance dedicated to themes of family and community that honor military service. A 19th Century star map of the world will be installed at ground level in front of the rostrum.
"This will become a destination for anyone who lives in our region and for visitors from beyond to come and honor veterans, and to experience the stories told through the art," Beckley said. "It has the potential to become a model for national cemeteries nationwide that are looking for ways to honor veterans."
Dee Graham, Herald reporter can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7027, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH