When discussing public art in Toronto a few pieces come to mind: Sorel Etrog's minimalist airplane sculpture, Sun Life, at University and King; David Cooper's thimble and colourful buttons assemblage at Richmond and Spadina, or the South African War memorial on the north edge of Queen's Park Circle.

Another item on the list would be the curious cluster of "elephant teeth" peppered between the winding roads of the Don Valley Parkway near to Taylor Creek Park. This Noel Harding work, consisting of six pieces in total dotted along the DVP, is titled Elevated Wetlands. It is a functional structure which drains and purifies rainwater through its solar powered filtration system, creating a suitable habitat for plants and flowers to grow. However, This curious work may no longer be the primary visual delight in this part of the city. The Pan Am Games have brought a new initiative to continue the trend of pairing nature and art with a series of public artworks along the newly branded Pan Am Path. 

Pan Am Path, City of Toronto, Public Art Photo of Pan Am Path Logo, Image by Salena Barry

Over the weekend a group of art enthusiast and cyclists met at Taylor Creek Park to tour the Pan Am Path and see the new artworks that have been installed along the trail both in celebration of the Games and the city's natural environment. The Pan Am Path is an 84 km route of uninterrupted multi-use trails to be fully complted in 2017. The trail runs from the Claireville Dam in the West End, down the Humber River to the Waterfront, up the Don Valley and eventually ending at Scarborough's waterfront to the Rouge River. A spur also connects to Etobicoke's Centennial Park. The Path was created as a part of the city's Host City Showcase Program which aims to enhance residents' experience during the Games while promoting economic activity and tourism.

Photo of Pan Am Path Logo, Image by Salena Barry

Pan Am Path, City of Toronto, Public Art Map of Pan Am Path, Courtesy City of Toronto

Saturday's bike tour event, SHIFT, was held by East End Arts and Friends of the Pan Am Path, as a part of the Pan Am Arts Relay, 14 consecutive weeks of Arts Programming centred around the Pan Am Path. The title according to Devan Patel, Programming Director at Project Gallery and board member at partner organization East End Arts, represents a simple change in perspective that experiencing art can inspire. This title was especially fitting given the way that the works explored integrated and enhanced their natural environment. Other speakers at the event included Cindy Rozeboom, Managing Director at East End Arts, East York; Toronto Beaches City Councillor Janet Davis; and Salim Rachid a Board member of Friends of the Pan Am Path. 

Pan Am Path, City of Toronto, Public Art Group Shot of SHIFT Bike Tour participants, Image by Saajid Motala

The First work of art on the trail were two of five benches designed and painted by members of the STEPS Initiative. STEPS works to revitalize connected communities through creative use of public spaces. One of thier popular works is the World's Tallest Mural painted along the side of a social housing high-rise in St. Jamestown. The two benches showcased on the tour were painted and designed by Anjuli Solanki, Programming Manager at STEPS. Her colourful and intricately patterned designs were inspired by her experiences working with indigenous Musqueam Weavers of the North West Coast who revived this art form in their community. Solanki was interested in cross-cultural exchange that can occur through different weaving practices across cultures. Her final design incorporates Musqueam (patterns, North West Coast, BC), Ojibwe (Southern Ontario), Northern Oaxacan (Southern Mexican), as well as South Asian designs. The other benches on the path are designed by Carlos Delgado, a Colombian artist who uses popular patterns from Colombian culture and dress. 

Pan Am Path, City of Toronto, Public Art Bench by STEPS Initiative, Image by Salena Barry

Pan Am Path, City of Toronto, Public Art Anjuli Solanki of STEPS initiative sitting in bench that she designed and painted for Pan Am Path, Image by Saajid Motala

The second work was back at the Taylor Creek parking lot where all the participants met. To see this piece we had to look down. This parking lot mural, titled Orbital, was created the Project Gallery Collective director Callen Schaub. His work looks at the interconnectedness of nature, humanity and the cosmos through his pendulum They were created by fixing a paint can with a puncture to a pendulum and pushing it so that the lines of paint map the can's trajectory as natural forces guide it. Community members from the East End have also painted colourful planets alongside Schaub's work, transforming the parking lot into a cosmic space.

Callen Schaub's Orbital Painting, Pan Am Path, City of Toronto, Public Art Callen Schaub's Orbital Painting, Image by Saajid Motala

After leaving the parking lot again and biking east, the tour took a pitstop at a bridge crossing over the Don River, to look at the Passages installation by Labspace Studios. One half of this artist collective, Laura Mendes, spoke about the work situated on one of the underpass wall features bifurcated red canoes "scattered, divided and sunken into concrete landscape." The work is meant to celebrate the history of the Don River which, in grander times, was a powerful waterway, but has greatly diminished since then. It also speaks to the idea of reclaiming Toronto's waterways which connect communities while providing sites of natural wonder and important civic infrastructure. 

Pan Am Path, City of Toronto, Public Art Passages Installation by Labspace Studios, Image by Salena Barry

The last stop on the tour was a mural created by the Z'otz* Collective under one of beams of one of the Don Valley bridges. The mural, The Meeting Place, explored different facets of the Pan Am Games by pairing sports imagery like diving boards, and archery targets in a bright and fantastical scene reflecting the energy and excitement of the events. Two members of the trio, whose name means "bat" in Mayan, were present to answer questions and to speak about their artistic process. When asked how they would deal with possible graffiti defacement member Erik Jerezano responded playfully that he would incorporate it into the mural and then if more tagging occurred he would continue to incorporate it to transform the mural. This spirit of collaboration and and incorporating nature, both human and otherwise, speaks to the ethos of all of the public art on this trail and their reminder to us to celebrate, value and preserve  the natural environment that we are lucky to have across the city.

Pan Am Path, City of Toronto, Public Art Image of Erik Jerezano of Z'otz* Collective discussing The Meeting Place, Image by Saajid Motala

Pan Am Path, City of Toronto, Public Art View of River City Phases 1 and 2 from the Pan Am Path, Image by Salena Barry

For those who were not able to make it out to the guided tour, the Pan Am Arts Relay will continue to host many more events over the course of the summer along the trail. Next Friday there will be a wall art unveiling sponsored by Public Arts organization No.9 and Centennial College. If public art is not your taste, the trail offers beautiful views of the city's architecture including River City Phases 1 and 2 and other lakeshore developments.