07/25/2015 08:20 EDT | Updated 07/25/2016 05:59 EDT

How Panamania Is Inspiring a City Like Never Before

There is movement happening right now as you read this.

PANAMANIA. 250 performances & exhibitions over 35 days.

Simply put, it has ignited a collective energy in a city and connected citizens of all backgrounds like never before.

"United We Play" seemed to be the overarching goal for the TO2015 Pan Am & Para Pan Games.

But the arts & culture experiences of these Games have brought us much more.

We are uniting and dancing.

We are uniting and singing.

We are uniting and clowning.

We are uniting and photographing.

We are uniting and listening.

We are uniting and laughing.

We are uniting and feeling.

And the list goes on. This two way dialogue between artists from the Pan American countries/Canada and the audiences themselves seems unprecedented. An inherent "cultural sharing" has been evident, and a real pride to expose one another to "my favourite of all time from my home country," to just plain accidental discovery followed by "wow, my new favourite of all time."

We have seen lots of world premieres, one of a kind Canadian collaborations and various shows that have been extended including Gimme Shelter, and The Postman.

We have been blown away by visual art shows such as Requiem for Water, and never seen before creative vision in Wheelchair Tango.

And for the now hundreds of thousands who have enjoyed, they have done so in most cases for free.

Lucky for all of us after this weekend it is not "adios" to the wonders we have experienced. There is a brief break (the art exhibitions do continue throughout), and then it starts all over again from August 7 to 12.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Don Shipley, Creative Director, Arts and Culture, Festivals for the TO2015 Pan Am & ParaPan Games to discuss the inspirations for the program, what it took to get done, and what is the legacy goal.

Why are the Games so much more than just sport?

If you look back to the history of large multi-sport events like the Olympics, culture has always had its place. It's very much embedded in the mission of TO2015 as well. PANAMANIA complements and enhances the spectacle that has been created, and as we have seen, it continues to entice tens of thousands to our sites every day and night and it continues to build momentum each and every day. A wonderful rich canvas has been created that represents not only a reflection of the 41 nations participating in the Games, but it is in fact, a reflection of our rich diverse city.

What were your team's objectives when coming up with the program?

We wanted to bring the cultures of Toronto, Canada and the Americas to life. Over the 35 day culture festival planned, we made a conscious decision to celebrate the contemporary style of our times versus traditional or folkloric themes of the Americas and the Caribbean. Ultimately, PANAMANIA is about embracing diversity and inclusion along with inspiring large public engagement while enhancing our own civic pride. We wanted to bring emerging and established artists together in unique ways. The reaction from the first week has been fantastic, and the great news is there is so much more still to come.

There will be 250 unique performances and exhibitions. How did you decide where each goes?

It is no easy task. As everyone has experienced, PANAMANIA has three free festival sites of culture activity and we wanted each to have its own character: CIBC Pan Am Park (where art meets sport), PANAMANIA Live @ Nathan Phillips Square (the epicentre), and PANAMANIA Live @ The Distillery District (an intimate South American square).

In addition, TO2015 has commissioned new innovative creation and brought numerous presentations from the participating countries. All the commissions will be unveiled as world premieres. This, in addition to showcase ticketed productions from the Americas. It's really a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this all at once. The bonus is that 90% of the performances are free to the public.

There are many Canadian artists that were commissioned to be part of this. Why was that important?

The commission program is the central core of the whole culture program. The legacy for arts and culture will be the opportunity to share our own Canadian stories, promote excellence in the contemporary arts, and showcase the best arts and culture of the Americas and the Caribbean.

There were 28 commissions of new Canadian work with a total investment of $1.5 million which triggered other levels of funding as well. They were designed to be unveiled as world premieres during the games, but the main goal was to inspire original cultural hybrids, and new artist collaborations. We also were charged with creating an official song for TO2015, and feel we have a real winner with "Together We Are One" sung so beautifully by Serena Ryder.

What are your wishes for the culture programming?

PANAMANIA has really inspired civic pride in our city like no other event in Toronto's history, and it is an opportunity to showcase Canadian arts and culture to visiting athletes and fans.

The hope is that we have contributed to raising the bar, created something unique and unexpected, inspired future Games, and made the next generation of Olympic and Pan Am organizers fully understand the dramatic impact that arts and culture can make when fully integrated into a major international sporting event.

From what I have seen, I believe that through PANAMANIA we have created something quite unique, and through this 35 day celebration we have managed to raise a new understanding and respect between people and nations, and created a renewed sense of genuine collaboration. I am, of course hoping that spirit of artistic collaboration continues well after the Pan/Parapan Am Games.

Best advice for the public as to how to see as much as possible?

First off, check the website and the official TO2015 app. Ultimately, I would encourage the public to come out and experience as much as they can, and to celebrate with the rest of their Pan American families. Maybe devote a day or night at each festival site.

PANAMANIA at TO2015 Pan Am/Para Pan Games continues through this weekend, and a full program of free and ticketed events, shows, concerts and experiences continue August 7 to 12. All details are here.