By Sasha Azoqa
At first glance, the 8- to 9-foot floral displays being installed in the Downtown Disney District add vibrant beauty to the shopping and dining experiences at the Disneyland Resort. But look a little deeper and you’ll find diversity and inclusion — and a profound sense of community among Disneyland Resort cast members — at the heart of this summertime display.
“Every year for the Downtown Disney District, we try to bring new and exciting décor, and this year we wanted to do something spectacular for our cast and guests,” said Resort Enhancement Design Team Lead Jeff Maloney.
The colorful displays tell the story of Isabela from Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Academy Award-winning “Encanto” as she fills the district with vibrant silletas, floral displays inspired by Colombian culture. Each silleta represents a different Business Employee Resource Group (BERG) at the Disneyland Resort and across The Walt Disney Company.
“Our story starts with Isabela at the Poppy Fountain and continues throughout the district,” said Brett of Resort Enhancement. Adds Jeff, “It’s Isabela who creates these massive floral displays that honor these different communities and groups.”
Jeff and Brett share a passion for promoting inclusion and representation, and seeing their project come to life has been immensely gratifying.
They hope guests can experience the silletas and learn a little bit more about the different communities and groups each represents. “There’s also something really special about celebrating our cast members, who are at the core of this entire display, in the Downtown Disney District,” said Jeff.
What is a Silleta?
“Silletas within Colombian culture are a celebration of flowers,” said Jeff. These elaborate flower arrangements are typically built on wooden structures and carried on the backs of the silleteros, of-ten flower farmers, from the small village of Saint Elena in the high mountains above Medellin. The Feria de Las Flores, or flower festival, is an annual celebration that represents the tradition and the silleteros’ 16-mile journey as they travel on foot down the mountainside to carry their flowers to the city.
Inspired by this tradition, Jeff and his team worked alongside BERG cast members to make sure each silleta appropriately represented their communities.
“When we worked with each of the BERGs, we wanted to take the lovely floral piece from Colombian culture and combine it with the culture or group of folks we’re celebrating to create something magical,” said Jeff.
Continue reading for a snapshot of a few of the BERGs represented in this display and be sure to visit the rest in person at the Downtown Disney District this summer!
The SHALOM silleta represents
The Walt Disney Company’s SHALOM BERG, which celebrates the stories and identities of Jewish employees and cast members while fostering advocacy, education, inclusivity and allyship.
“The SHALOM silleta has very specific plants that are indigenous to Israel,” said Jeff. “This includes flowers found in the springtime of Israel like poppies, cyclamen and narcissus.” Also found on the silleta is an olive tree with six olives, representing the six pillars of the SHALOM BERG’s mission – synergy, history, allyship, legacy, obligation and meaning. There is also a plaque that says SHALOM in Hebrew along with a simple, inspirational message of “Peace” translated below it.
The ENABLED silleta represents the Disneyland Resort ENABLED BERG, which promotes respect, equality and appreciation of people with disabilities through community, awareness, education and inclusion.
“This silleta is representing a really diverse group of folks,” said Jeff. The Resort Enhancement team was intentional behind every material used, specifically with the gold-colored flowers behind the cognitive symbol shown on the ENABLED silleta. “For example, gold has been embraced by the autistic community because in the periodic table of elements, gold is represented with the letters AU, which are the first letters of the word autism.”
“The silletas have little hidden meanings in them,” said Jeff. “Whether it’s the colors or species of flowers, we wanted to make sure that each silleta is honoring the community that we are trying to celebrate.”
“My hope is that guests and cast alike will not only appreciate the beauty of each silleta, but for the power of the meaning behind each one,” said Resort Enhancement Area Manager Dawn Pipal-Keehne. “Thank you to the cast, the Business Employee Resource Groups (BERGs) and the Resort Enhancement Team. From the bottom of my heart, you inspire me every day!”
The NAATV silleta represents The Walt Disney Company’s NAATV BERG, which serves as a place of belonging for Native American and Indigenous colleagues and allies.
“The NAATV silleta has very specific symbolism in the plant material and color choices,” said Jeff. “We worked with our NAATV BERG to make sure that the materials being used feel personal to the Indigenous and Native American community, as well as the Southern California community.”
The silleta features a circle divided into four quadrants that represent the physical, spiritual, social and emotional balance in a person’s life, as well as arrows from the north, south, east and west pointing toward the middle to represent coming together to form a community. Other elements in the NAATV silleta include medicinal plants like sage and indigenous flowers to Southern California like wildflowers and poppies.