16 things to see and do at Panamania in Toronto

Thanks to Panamania, you don't have to be a sports fanatic to enjoy the Pan Am Games. The city is hosting a 35-day celebration of Toronto's arts and culture scene, full with free concerts, art exhibitions, and fireworks. Whether you're looking to celebrate an athlete's performance or want to spend an afternoon relaxing by the water, there's plenty to do over the next month.

Here are my picks for the top things to do during Panamania in Toronto.


Dance the night away at one of the many free concerts (July 11-26, Aug. 7-12)
Free music in Nathan Phillips Square is not a new concept for the city of Toronto; but the Pan Am Games has created an intensive line up with over 130 acts throughout 35 days. Expect free performances from artists like Serena Ryder (July 11) The Flaming Lips (July 19), Chromeo (Aug. 7), The Roots (Aug. 8). Tanya Tagaq (Aug. 8), and Jann Arden (Aug. 11). Concerts will occur every day between noon and 11 p.m.

Stick around after a game at Exhibition Place (July 11-25)
It may be known for its cronuts or deep-fried, well, everything, but this summer the Exhibition Place will become one of the largest sport and art clusters in the city. In addition to hosting five competition venues, it will also be the home of a number of concerts, including performances by Lights (July 20), Colin James (July 17), Stars (July 23), Kiesza, and Toronto-based electronic band Austra.

Listen to some classical music at Koerner Hall (July 21-22)
Not up to standing all night long or braving the crowds at Exhibition Place? Maybe you should head to Koerner Hall to hear the classical musical styling of the YOA Orchestra of the Americas (July 21) or to see Grammy Award-winning pianist Danilo Pérez (July 22), who will be performing an original song for the Pan Am Games.


Enjoy pop-up shops at the Distillery (July 11-26)
While known for its art galleries and quaint boutiques, the Distillery District is promising some unique pop-up shops and cultural experiences during Panamania that will bring in "the sights, sounds and tastes of the Americas."

Celebrate the Caribbean at an outdoor fashion show (July 16-18)
Watch "island chic" strut on the runway during Cuttin' Style Caribbean, a free event that guarantees elegant and sophisticated style. After the fashion show, mix and mingle with international and local designers, including Torontonian Cherith Burke, during an evening Gala (July 18) full of vibrant music and festive foods. Tickets are $145 per person.

See a world premiere (July 21-Aug. 8)
Among the premieres debuting during Panamania is a comedy by Canadian actress Sandra Shamas called The Big 'What Now?', (July 21-25) about life after 50, and a one-man show called 887 (July 14-19) by Quebecois playwright, actor and film director Robert Lepage. These ticketed events are happening all across the city at various theatres and community centres.

Sing along with a musical debut (Aug. 6-8)
Panamania will be debuting a new musical about the Salem witch trials called Obeah Opera. The performance - at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District - is sure to have you clapping your hands and stopping your feet with its acappella music and all-female cast.

Get into the rhythm with dance (July 17-Aug.8)
See the world move with one of the many international dance performances happening across the city. See hard-hitting urban street dance in Battle for the North (July 21-23), Brazilian modern dance in MIX, or even experience ballet from six different countries with The connected Creation of creative Connection (July 15).

Walk down the Bloor St. Culture Corridor
Bloor St. between Bay St. and Bathurst will be joining the Panamania listings as one of the must-see cultural locations in Toronto. Visit one of the many museums, art exhibitions or concerts happening in this "culture corridor," or even take in a Pan-American film at Hot Docs.

Check out the most Canadian circus ever to have lived (July 23-25)
Remember those childhood moments: acrobats, musicians, and clowns all riding their mini bicycles around in circles, vying for the crowd's laughter and applause? Well, Cirque Alfonse's Timber! puts a North-American twist on the average circus. The storyline and acrobatics were all inspired by the designer's real-life Québécois farming experience, complete with lumberjacks and loggers.


Art in transit (July 10-Aug. 15)
Your commute may be longer thanks to the traffic and congestion caused by the Pan Am Games, but at least the view will be improved. TTC users will be subject to the world premiere of Water's Edge, a photo exhibit by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky and six other international artists. You can see the exhibition at Union Station and Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Stroll through your regular summer hangouts (July 10-Aug. 15)
Toronto's favourite summer attractions--like Harbourfront, Sugar Beach, and Fort York--have been transformed into art hubs, each one hosting an exhibition featuring photography or textiles. If the weather holds, the artwork will even move to Lake Ontario. Watercolour will open and close the Pan Am Games with a floating exhibit representing the 41 countries participating in the Games.

Watch artists battle it out live (July 24-25)
Seeing the final version of a painting is so passé. Head to the Distillery District to watch artists from across the Americas create their masterpieces in a live art battle. The finalists will move on to the International Live Painting Championship at Nathan Phillips Square on July 25. This is a free event.


Learn about the next sportswear fad (July 7-Nov. 15)
The mystery of spandex sportswear will finally be answered. The Design Exchange will be showcasing an exhibition about the evolution of sportswear technology and will explain how it "permeates every aspect of our lives."

Celebrate victory with your fellow Torontonians (July 10-26, Aug. 7-15)
Want to celebrate Canada's latest win? Athletes will be heading to Nathan Phillips Square after their medal presentations to meet fans and party the night away. Be prepared for regular nightly fireworks and some awesome entertainment.

Witness the personal struggle of parasport athletes (Aug. 11-14)
If you are looking for a more educational activity, watch the world debut of Push! Real Athletes. Real Stories. Real Theatre., which opens on Aug. 11. This performance follows the lives of six athletes--all of their successes, failures, and challenges--and intertwines them to explain the history of the Paralympics.

What did I miss? Add more Panamania events to the comments.

Photo by Matt Forsythe.

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