Some sponsors do not get much more than a sincere thank you. CIBC, the Canadian bank that is lead sponsor of the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games and its “Panamania” cultural festival is showing that sponsors can become the center of attention with a classy art exhibition that reinforces positive images. The exhibition is called “YOUNG World Faces of Pan Am.” The faces are in fact Young, the presentation style is new and intriguing, and the lead artist is actually named Young, Robert Young, to be exact. The July 7 preview was a big success and is generating a level of media attention that only the most successful sponsorship programs can achieve.

This very personal approach to showing the spirit and traditions of the forty-one nations participating in the PanAmerican Games presents a photo essay in a constellation of portraits. Each one is a headshot of a young woman from each of the forty-one nations, meticulously face-painted with a vibrant adaptation of the national flag of the country she is representing.

The relevance to a major international sporting event clicks over and over like a shutter in a photography studio. The face painting looks like the work of the most spirited national team fans who cheer their team on from the stands. The facial expressions reflect the range of emotions of passionate sports fans at live sporting events, from anticipation to amazement. The images are projected from illuminated lightboxes whose seven foot by four foot dimensions match the larger than life images of sports heroes. A matching digital art presentation enhances each portrait with a clip of each model and her aspirations for her country. And the presentation itself is in the shape of a hemisphere, engaging viewers to take a new look at the Western Hemisphere nations presenting themselves in the 2015 Pan American Games.

The presentation is a good match for the flagship exhibition space of its sponsor, CIBC, the brand of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, which also own the CIBC Wood Gundy investment house. It is a spacious entry to the tower that houses the bank’s headquarters in Toronto’s financial district. This “Center Court” is just a short walk from the Toronto 2015 Superstore and the center of Toronto 2015 daily victory celebrations and fireworks in Nathan Philips Square. This presents a model exhibition of what a sponsor can do to build off the platform of sports event fans to engage the arts community and the general public. The exhibition itself intrigues viewers to see each portrait again from different perspectives and share their impressions with other viewers. Many will likely return with friends on their way to other events in the area. This can give CIBC the image that upscale banks want. That is to be seen as an innovative institution that welcomes new ideas and new customers.

Serious business sponsors will also want to take a close look at the kind of team effort that makes this type of sponsorship an effective way to reach a large and influential audience. Robert Young, a Toronto area native who has extensive global experience with both professional model projects and photo essays, came up with the idea on his own and networked to present it to the Toronto 2015 organizers and potential sponsors at CIBC. Together, they decided to try and proceeded with engaging another network – expatriates from the other forty Pan American countries living in Toronto. They also recruited the talents of make-up artist Jocelyn Santos-Thompson, whose own family is from Chile. Santos-Thompson matched Young’s interpretation of each Pan American national flag to the individual complexion and beauty palette of forty different models. And Santos-Thompson also applied her own make-up for her own portrait session representing the spirit of Chile. This artistic approach required sophisticated lighting to recreate the exact color shades used in the national flags, a new level of technical precision. Local technology also showed how these unique images can be presented to stand out. McRae Imaging crafted giant lightboxes seven feet tall by four feet wide to display high resolution fabric prints that make the portraits shimmer. The special effects strengthen the individual portraits and also make a stunning impression when viewers step back and see the entire gallery at one time.

Ambitious sponsors who want to do much more than hand out money to worthy organizations will want to take a close look at what this team effort has shown that it can do. Lead sponsor CIBC is earning praise for being willing to take a few risks and do something remarkably different. CIBC is also using its good customer relations and location to help achieve a critical mass of viewers. With exciting, new content like this program, word-of-mouth and social media can make that audience much larger. The pragmatic approach to presentation also makes it well suited to become a travelling exhibition after the exhibition closes August 15. The standard sized lightboxes are easy to ship in a single container and will be a welcome special exhibition at any premier sports museum.

Story by Max Donner