Editor's Note: The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and The Patterson Foundation partnered on "The Future of the Philanthropic Sector," a special topics course for the school's students during the spring 2022 semester. The course connects students to The Patterson Foundation's innovative approach to philanthropy and nonprofits in the Sarasota area engaged in the foundation's initiatives.
These profound words etched eternally on the stone walls of the entrance of Patriot Plaza serve as a reminder to all who enter. Located at Sarasota National Cemetery, Patriot Plaza was completed on June 28, 2014, by The Patterson Foundation and donated to the National Cemetery Association.
“…let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” – Abraham Lincoln
When I arrived at Patriot Plaza, the sea of marble headstones dotted the landscape and invoked a sense of formality and grandeur. As I walked amongst the artwork, which included a mosaic tile display, 22 marble plinths, a pair of blue mosaic spires, 16 white marble tablets with engravings and glass-printed photographs, and two majestic 7-foot bronze eagle statues, I understood that this was not a sad place, but a place of peace and reflection where families and veterans could mourn and celebrate the lives of all military members.
Patriot Plaza features a 2,800-seat ceremonial amphitheater crowned by an awe-inspiring 20,800-sq.ft. covering made from 792 glass panels and unique and thought-provoking commissioned artwork that honors veterans, inspires patriotism, and embraces freedom. One of the most impressive sights was the amphitheater itself. The stanchions that were holding the glass panels were misleading. After speaking with our tour guide, we learned they were holding the glass ceiling down to withstand hurricane-force winds.
Some of my favorite art installations included:
"Night to Day, Here and Away" — This installation included a 50-foot glass and ceramic mosaic on the stage and two giant mosaic spires on each side of the pavilion. The stage mosaic shows depictions of the Earth's elements, air, water, land, and the five branches of the military. The mosaic also shows the change from day to night and back to day, representing how military families may be watching nightfall or sunrise simultaneously in different parts of the world. The two large spires on opposite sides of the pavilion repeat the same themes and include laurel wreaths and service ribbons. Blue and gold stars are featured throughout. Blue stars represent a family with someone active in the military, while gold stars represent those who have lost a military family member.
"Witness to Mission" — Of the 22 marble plinths, the two that were most interesting to me were of a WWII veteran who was placing flowers on a memorial to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day and a photo of a family who was buoyant with joy to see their father return from service. My great-grandfather served in WWII, and just the pure joy on the family's face was so positive.
"Testimonies" —These focus on telling the personal stories of service members and their families. The most impactful one to me was "Conflict." As someone who has worked with veterans who experience homelessness, this hit home because when they return home from service, there are so many other hurdles that they must deal with that are often unseen.
Patriot Plaza is an amazing place to visit and reflect on those who gave their lives so that we can continue to embrace our freedom.