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The Pan Am Path to a connected city

Live Art Festival, by Mural Routes and StART at Underpass Park.

First Story Toronto Tours and App, by First Story Project at Fort York.

Walking Wave, by Lakeshore Arts at Sir Casimir Gzowski Park.

Devon Ostrom is big on hugs.

Though the tall, bearded lead curator of Friends of the Pan Am Path has just wrapped a press conference announcing the culmination of his last two years of work, he can't help but greet his friends in attendance before moving on to media Q&As. It seems that everyone in the room of reporters and arts administrators is an old colleague or pal. “Hang on a sec,” he says as a journalist begins to part her lips in preparation of a question. Hugs. “Wait, sorry, really sorry,” he says after returning for just a moment, then running off for more hugs. "She's like a second mom to me," he explains, slightly emotional, following one quick departure. Apologetically, after making his rounds, he resumes press duty.

“That's so Devon,” laughs a publicist.

Ostrom is one of several people involved in programming the Pan Am Path Art Relay, citywide relay of art installations and events that will take place at 14 locations along the Pan Am Path between May 16 and August 15. The path itself is a multi-use, 84 kilometre trail set to finish construction in late 2017, providing city residents with green space for cycling, running, and simply exploring by foot—a piece of infrastructure that will, quite literally, connect Toronto's communities. With the Art Relay to kick things off, the Friends of the Pan Am Path and its supporting bodies, which include the City of Toronto and Toronto Foundation, hope to create a legacy of connection that transcends the physical.

“It's a social connection, about bringing different arts organizations and sewing them together in more of a sequence that creates a sense of connectivity in the city,” says Ostrom. “It's an opportunity to bridge the inner suburbs and the downtown core.” The outcome, Ostrom explains, will be a less physically concrete asset than the abundance of built infrastructure left over from the Games, but no less important: a social and cultural legacy.

The project came about after a careful brainstorming between Ostrom and Friends' executive director, James Gen Meers, over how to devise a Pan Am strategy that would meaningfully combine arts and sport. In 2013, after eight months of private negotiations with City Hall, the project was approved. From there, installations were selected through a call for submissions from community arts organizations, with relay stops chosen to coincide with neighbourhood improvement areas.

“It's really a taste of authentic and genuine communities within our city,” says Gracia Dyer Jalea, the relay's programming manager. For visitors coming into the city for the Pan Am Games this summer, the relay offers a chance to get to know the myriad communities that make up this city of neighbourhoods. It also gives Torontonians an opportunity to come together through events, guided tours, and a handy Pan Am Path app that uses GPS mapping to highlight the location-specific cultural landmarks nearest to the app's user.

Kicking off the summer's path programming will be “Spring!”, a launch event hosted by AFCY at the Centre for Urban Ecology at the Humber Arboretum. The event will include dance and music performances amplified through a bicycle-powered sound system, and kid-friendly programs sponsored by community backbones that include the TRCA, David Suzuki Foundation, and Centre for Urban Ecology. From there will be the Freedom Fridayz Festival & Born This Way Mural by Essencia at Pine Point Park, followed by Activate! Weston-Mount Dennis, by UrbanArts and Dan Bergeron at St. Phillips Road Bridge in Cruickshank Park. From then on, each week will mark a new festival at a different site, working its way down the path until the relay's August 15 Grand Finale. That event, Maadaadizi / Summer Journeys, by Jason Baerg, will be held at Rouge Beach and the start of the First Nations Trail.

“The Pan Am Path itself will be a tremendous legacy from the games for arts and community, but it's also going to be a platform for a whole bunch of other legacies to come onto that,” says Toronto Foundation CEO Rahul Bhardwaj. For one, the 1,000 community ambassadors trained through the Foundation's Playing For Keeps sport initiative will be needing a place to play.
“It gives us a chance to deconstruct the silos we sometimes tend to create here in Toronto,” says Dyer Jalea. And, that deconstruction will continue beyond the relay, both through programming and infrastructure. 

"The social capital that arts brings will help to aid that sense of connection," Ostrom explains, gesturing to the remaining members of the room's thinning crowd. Perhaps he realizes that the bulk of the people who are left work in arts; despite representing geographically disparate groups, they are closely linked through this shared bond. In that sense, the Pan Am Path aims to serve as a pathway to holistic connection, an infrastructural hug to span the city. 

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