On Uses Art Runs to Build Communities, Give Back

A musician plays at an On Art Run event in Washington, DC

[This article was updated on August 22, 2019]

In a sport that often uses fast times to judge success, On is using running to slow down.

The Swiss running brand started its Art Run series in 2016 as a way to show off the art scenes in great cities and bring running communities together, says On Experiential Marketing Producer Brad Pankey. But he’s clear that the runs are not timed, and that they don’t even have to be runs.

“This is not a race,” Pankey says, noting that he walks the courses with participants. “This is a community event.”

On hosted five runs this year: in Los Angeles, Vancouver, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The courses wind through city streets, past towering installations of public art and murals as tall as the buildings they’re painted on.

On Art Run Chicago

A collection of On Running shoes at an Art Run event in Chicago

Runners in Los Angeles toured the Arts District on the eastern edge of downtown, where imposing portraits loomed over the sidewalks and graffiti brought entire city blocks to life; Chicago runners stopped for photos in front of the massive “The Four Season” mosaic and saw their reflections in the gleaming “Cloud Gate” in Millennium Park.

But the runs are more than sightseeing tours: Each event supports local arts and running nonprofits.

“We’re really passionate about giving back to different communities,” Pankey says. “This was a way for us to do that, too.”

On charges a $10 entry fee to join the run, which pulls double duty as an On shoe demo. When it’s over, On donates all proceeds to the partner organizations. Pankey and event organizers also hire local artists to create and display their work along the route or at the On-sponsored party afterward. Pankey says the art on display isn’t just visual, either. In LA, musicians from the Los Angeles College of Music played for runners. In San Francisco, students from Youth Speaks performed works of spoken word poetry.

“I try to make the art interactive, too,” Pankey says. “People are pretty captivated by it—it kind of brings the art to life.”

On raised about $20,000 for the nonprofits over the past two years, and Pankey says he thinks that number will grow as the runs become more popular. Here’s how the numbers looked this year:

  • Los Angeles Art Run. The event supported BlacklistLA, a local running group that connects people through community, art and running, and the LA College of Music. The event gave back $2,350.
  • Vancouver Art Run. On supported the Beaumont Studios Artists Society, which builds community, stewards creativity and provides spaces and opportunities for artists. The event raised $1,550.
  • San Francisco Art Run. Runners helped raise money for Youth Speaks, a nonprofit that empowers young people with literary skills through spoken word poetry. The event raised $2,100.
  • Chicago Art Run. On worked with the Design Museum of Chicago, which strengthens the city’s design and arts culture while building community for artists. The event donated $1,750.
  • DC Art Run. The run in Washington, D.C., benefitted the Blind Whino SW Arts Club, a nonprofit dedicated to facilitating community based art programming with other notable art institutions and organizations. The event raised $1,450.

Pankey says the Art Run series will return to the same cities next year, which are major cultural and sales hubs for On, and work with the same nonprofits. The work, Pankey says, is part of a bigger effort to encourage stronger communities centered around art and running.

“We get people in the shoes, but part of my job is building community,” Pankey says. “It’s a really important piece of what we do at On.”

On Art Run Portland

Photos courtesy of On

By Evan Matsumoto. Evan played many sports growing up but didn’t go pro in any of them. Now, he’s the digital copywriter for fleetfeet.com and editor for the Fleet Feet blog where he writes about different foam densities and engineered mesh uppers.

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