The “Garden of We” utilizes meaningful symbolic choices to create a memorial that references the shared experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020-2023). A garden within the existing Kiwanis Park, located at 3400 Johnson Street, transforms the memorial into a visual space of reflection that honors all those who experienced the pandemic, particularly essential workers. The project is anticipated to be completed by late Spring of 2024.
About the Memorial:
- Small flowering trees are centered in 6 foot circles referencing the distance we maintained during quarantine.
- Growth and healing are embodied in the use of natural flora.
- The trees provide oxygen while the flowers serve as a memorial for those who have passed.
- A space of reflection grounds the center of the space.
- Benches provide a resting place on the perimeter of a landscaped shape that references lungs.
- In the center sits two panels that incorporates text to remind, as well as educate future viewers of the experience of the pandemic
Artist Stephanie Cunningham from Florida Atlantic University has been commissioned to create the memorial. She says much consideration was given to the memorial including how it could be made visual and meaningful, be a space of reflection, be specific to the place, connect with both those who experienced the event and for future generations, be affordable and durable, be easy to maintain, and ensure visitor safety.
Kiwanis Park is bordered by main roads, North Park Road and Johnson Street, adjacent to an alley and residential neighborhood. The park was chosen for its close proximity to Memorial Regional Hospital, where many essential workers experienced the front lines of the pandemic. Existing park features:
- 50 x 25 feet area
- Between existing path and fence grassy flat terrain
- flagpole and signage
- multiple trees
- paved paths
- playground equipment
- small shade pavilion
- bus stop
Within each circle is a single flowering tree native to South Florida.* The trees represent isolation and stand as memorials to those who passed. Over time, the diverse planting will grow to create a colorful and mature garden that offers a welcoming environment for park visitors. The cluster of flowering trees will appeal to visitors’ sense of sight and smell. They will attract pollinators such as butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. The plants serve as a reminder of the healing power of time and the ability to overcome adversity.
Examples of small flowering trees:
- Bridal Wreath Frangipani / white flowers
- Desert Cassia / yellow flowers
- Dwarf Poinciana / red flowers
- Bougainvillea / multiple colors
- Hibiscus / multiple colors
- Dwarf Jatropha / red flowers
- Geiger Tree / orange flowers
*Final selections to be made in consultation with the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts, The Department of Public Works and horticulturists to determine appropriate selections.
Each 6-foot tree area is defined by landscape mats, made from coir or recycled rubber mulch, that suppress weeds and retain water. This approach creates a soft scape that merges with the existing environment. This solution is affordable and environmentally-friendly while visually defining the 6-foot circles. The circumference of each circle can be planted with compatible border plantings. A landscaped edge may create a visual, permeable barrier.
COVID robs the afflicted of oxygen; the plants give oxygen back. Overtime the plants reach for one another and grow together to link the rings of isolation. This action is intended to be symbolic of our own recovery. The plantings signify our resilience in overcoming the pandemic, however plants require care, just as humans do. They act as a reminder to take care of our community, our neighbors, and ourselves.
The Centerpiece Section - Lung Area & Benches
The center of the garden features a lung-shaped area with two benches and two centerpiece text panels. The path is an abstract lung shape in reference to the respiratory system with the entrance oriented to the existing park sidewalk. A crushed shell fill defines the lung area and creates a natural environment compatible with the surrounding benches and garden. The shells also allow for rainwater permeability. Two benches sit on the perimeter of a path. The simple curved benches are prefabricated reinforced concrete and their shapes complement the path. The benches invite visitors to sit and contemplate the site.
Each side of the symmetrical lung shape contains a 3 x 8 foot aluminum sheet cut through with a text tribute to the experiences of COVID-19. The panels stand out due to their material while the shadows they cast help to integrate them with the site. The words focus on some of the experiences we shared despite our isolation. The typographic letter forms are made up of small holes that allow light to pass through and repeat the words as light and shadow on the ground. These cast words create a photographic moment for visitors. The words mingle with other dots that float free throughout the background to echo the planted circles. The text is configured so that the panels can be read from both sides. Aluminum is durable and weathers well and their permeability, due to the holes, will assist in both wind and security.
The words “We” serve as a unifying header for the text and theme for the project. “We” is cut twice to be readable on each side. The list of shared experiences alternates to be readable from either side. Twelve phrases read:
The first panel focuses on some of the difficulties, the second speaks to some of the positives discovered while coping. The text is written in the past tense, until the final word, “remember.” The perforated surface allows the sun to cast shadows that create legible text on other surfaces. The pieces become dynamic as the shadows move with the changing position of the sun throughout the day.
The Centerpiece Section: Remembrance Rocks
The practice of stacking rocks on graves exists in many cultures. It traditionally marked and protected the burial site. It has evolved into a remembrance marking a visit to the grave. Painting rocks is one of the creative activities that became popular during COVID. It was common to leave them outside to be discovered and provide a moment of happiness. In this instance, the two are combined to both practice creativity, giving, and to honor those who passed. The text panels require concrete footers. These will be designed to encourage visitors to leave rocks, painted or plain, as a tribute to those who passed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alternatively, the holes in the text panels allow visitors to place the stems of flowers from the trees.
About the Artist
Stephanie Cunningham is an artist, designer and educator residing in South Florida who works at the intersections of these 3 vocations. Her work embraces a variety of materials and themes and is unified by contemplative reflections on contemporary life. Common visual themes in her work include the use of text, multiples, a carefully crafted symbolic language, including materials and processes, to engage the audience. She received a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from the University of Notre Dame. She teaches in the FAU Department of Visual Arts and Art History on the Fort Lauderdale campus. Her work has been exhibited widely and been recognized by a number of awards and honors.