A path to neighbourhood empowerment

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James Gen Meers

Our guest blogger this week is James Gen Meers, Executive Director of the Pan Am Path Art Relay. The Art Relay, sponsored in part by United Way Toronto, combines art and sport to create a living path across the city, including some of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods. The goal of the 3-month project, which will stretch across an 80-kilometre trail, is to celebrate our city’s greatest assets: diversity, nature and arts. It will also help to strengthen priority neighbourhoods across our city by breaking down physical barriers and connecting residents with each other. James has previously served as a Senior Advisor with the Ontario Government and has helped produce more than 100 citizen “talk salons” in his role as progressive community builder.

Under a highway underpass is a freshly painted mural created by a Toronto street artist. It’s one of numerous murals that are springing up in parks and on underpasses this summer along the Pan Am Path—an 84-kilometre continuous trail for walking, running, cycling and wheeling that connects the city from east to west.

The works are part of the Pan Am Path Art Relay, a series of unique art installations and festivals travelling across Toronto that celebrate some of the city’s greatest assets: diversity, nature, arts and active outdoor living.

The Art Relay was started by a group of Toronto artists and city-builders in collaboration with the City of Toronto. It is organized by the Friends of the Pan Am Path and receives funding from the City and numerous organizations, including United Way Toronto. The Path travels through many of the 13 priority neighbourhoods where United Way is targeting efforts to meet the urgent needs of residents living in poverty and build stronger communities.

These city-wide installations and festivals are about much more than just beautiful artwork. The Art Relay helps improve physical infrastructure to link parkland across neighbourhoods in Toronto’s inner suburbs. By breaking down physical barriers, Pan Am Path is helping to connect priority neighbourhoods across our city, encouraging residents to enjoy their natural backyards through arts, music, cycling and running or walking.  It’s another way United Way Toronto is working with dedicated and passionate city builders to re-imagine our city for our residents.

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The “Album” Mural

Artist Tristan R. Whiston, along with partner Anna Camilleri, is responsible for a mural called “Album” under the Dundas Street W. bridge near Lambton House. Tristan says he often encounters people enjoying nature and art on the Path. “Every day as I’m working on this mural, people are stopping me and I am spreading the story and the meaning behind this artwork,” he says. “This Art Relay gets us out of our houses and onto this beautiful path.”

Further along the western tip of the Path, a small community group called Freedom Fridayz recently celebrated their fifth anniversary with a day-long festival that included painting, dance, song and poetry. The group formed to provide a platform for Jane –Finch community members to both showcase and celebrate their skills, talents and knowledge. United Way Toronto and its partners, including the Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre played a key role in bringing residents out to celebrate another milestone in improving their local neighborhood.

For more information about the Pan Am Path, the Art Relay and upcoming events, follow United Way on TwitterFacebook and Instagram using #ArtRelay. You can also visit panampath.org.