2015 Hero: Don Shipley
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2015 Hero: Don Shipley

Nominated for: bringing Pan-American culture to Toronto for PANAMANIA—and showcasing Toronto's cultural wealth to the world.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2015 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until midnight on January 7. At noon on January 8, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Don Shipley

There were many nay-sayers, right up until the Pan-Am Games opened. They said traffic would be a nightmare (it wasn’t); they said the games would be an economic drain on the city (they arguably weren’t); and there were many who claimed that Torontonians would be disinterested in the proceedings. That wasn’t the case, and a large part of that had to do with the cultural programming of PANAMANIA, which reached out and brought every citizen into the celebratory spirit.

The chief visionary for PANAMANIA’s programming was Don Shipley, who began preparations for the proceedings nearly four years ago. The theatre director and art administrator, who’s worked at the Stratford Festival and Harbourfront Centre, started small and local with an international project, Luke Gerram’s “Play Me, I’m Yours.” It was well received, and foreshadowed the important role Toronto’s communities and cultures would play in PANAMANIA’s programming.

This summer, the fruits of Shipley’s collaborative work with artists and companies from across the city and two continents was unveiled. It included an exceptional slate of theatrical collaborations with local companies, including Crow’s Theatre’s The Watershed, one of the best conventionally staged shows of the year; Bluemouth Inc.’s It Comes In Waves, which had audience-participants paddle themselves out to an adventure across the Toronto Islands; and Appledore Production’s The Postman, which led crowds on walking tours of the route of Toronto’s first racialized mailman.

The musical performances, certainly the largest component of the festival, were spread across the city, exceptionally programmed, and drew crowds every night. In Nathan Phillips Square, audiences were treated to concerts and nightly fireworks displays, and tourists and locals alike posed with the 3D “TORONTO” sign, which has become such a popular attraction that it’s remained outside City Hall for the rest of the year.

Shipley had a clear vision—”to celebrate the culture of the Americas in Toronto“—and with it, he helped the city become better aware of its cultural wealth.