Diversity Plaza: Downtown beautification adds new color and art in Stockton

by Ben Sanchez

Brighter days.

When I boxed up the buttons my intern designed in preparation for the diversity ceremony this month, I realized the work my team developed for this project would be coming to a close.

My intern, Ayaana Williams, wrapped up button and flyer designs for the project during her final week at the office. I picked up the camera for the first time in a long time. The camera felt heavy in my hands as I walked past the new Superior Court of California downtown. There is a small walkway between the old and new courthouse buildings on Weber Avenue. I heard swishing water past the steps where people were walking in and out of large, windowed doors of the courthouse. The bustling crowds moved swiftly through the walkway to approach the building.

Skies were clear today with sun rays beaming down on the open space behind the courthouse. The ceremony was scheduled before noon. I slip past the crowds, preparing my attempt to capture moments with the camera.

I have made this walk numerous times with my team in downtown. Jason and I filmed downtown shots of the Fox theater and the old Bank of Stockton building. We snapped photos a few blocks away at the redeveloped Chung Wah Lane. But today, at that moment, I am the one looking down the lens this time. This space is different now. Ayaana compiled before and after footage of this outdoor area. We both watched this outdoor space transform over the past four months from Hunter Square to Diversity Plaza.

City of Stockton team members pose for the selfie.

Diversity Plaza.

Once called Hunter Square, the new space is now named Diversity Plaza. The Spire, an art piece designed by Glen Mortenson, was originally located in this outdoor space (Passerbyers will now see the Spire at the newly developed Miner Avenue roundabout).

Michael Huber, Executive Director of Downtown Stockton Alliance, explained he wanted to celebrate Stockton’s diversity for this project, hence the name change for the area. “For our 2021 beautification project, we chose the back half of Hunter Square, which is now Diversity Plaza,” says Huber.

During the winter months last year, our maintenance team assisted with the landscape development. Flag poles were painted and placed across the plaza. Each flag is designed by Ayaana with these words: Unity, Equity, Pride, Inclusion, Diversity, and Respect.

The short video footage she put together will give you a sense of the work and transformation over the past year.

You can watch the video below.

Behind the lens.

The camera felt heavy today. Heavier than usual. The crowd walked across the lawn into the sunlight where rows of chairs waited to seat their visitors. I look through the camera lens to capture the art on utility boxes near Diversity Plaza. The outdoor space was utilized in our other video when we introduced Ayaana on our YouTube channel. I went ahead and operated the camera when we captured video of her walking past the flags during construction. You also can watch that video on our YouTube channel.

Ayaana was a great photographer. She captured a lot of the Diversity Plaza photos you see on social media. The material she developed was an integral part of the design process for marketing going forward.

Speaking of design and art, Sam Majeed (@dopaminecolors) created the art you see at Diversity Plaza. This collaborative effort toward this project is not his first project in downtown. He created a mural in the Courthouse Plaza parking lot along the east wall of the building. People approached him in the crowd. His large coat had a colorful art design across his back. When he turned to address the people acknowledging his artwork, I squeezed the button on the camera to capture it.

Sam Majeed greeting the public.

Celebrate Diversity.

Diversity Plaza ceremony

Two large polished art statues stand behind a circular, iron gated area. These statues and gates round out the art ensemble at the plaza. City of Stockton officials, public figures, and community members gathered for the presentation of Diversity Plaza. When Huber addressed the crowd introducing Harry Black to the microphone, everyone took a seat. Each speaker approached the microphone to say a few words about the work being done in downtown before presenting a certificate to Huber.

Chamber representatives were asked to approach the microphone to speak. The Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Central Valley Asian American Chamber of Commerce offered their appreciation for the beautification efforts in downtown. People lined up for photo ops by Tim Ulmer as they exchanged greetings before the camera clicks to snapshot the moment. Majeed took a candid photo standing in front of his work (Striking a pose to capture his coat in the shot). With people saying their goodbyes, I pop the cover back on the lens before I head off to the next venture.

The crowd dispersed with a snapshot of Diversity Plaza. I hope the public can make their way to visit this hidden space. Hopefully, this will be one of many upcoming beautification projects within downtown Stockton.

Fun Fact:

Ayaana Williams designed the flags and buttons for Diversity Plaza. She also created the highlight video and captured photos during the development process downtown.

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