We Angelenos know getting around the city can be an arduous task no matter where you're headed or what time of day. Rush hour is every hour. I live on the magical Westside, close to the beach, so leaving my hood is never a priority. Getting me to venture out of the zip code generally requires a crane, cookies and a guaranteed one-on-one with Clooney.
However, despite my dislike for vehicle movement, the harsh reality is arts education is taking a back seat on the big yellow school bus, and the movement towards getting and keeping arts in schools can and does start with me. I said a little traffic prayer, put on my favorite kicks, got in the car and drove the 62 miles to the Vans Custom Culture Art & Design Showcase at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach. Note to self, "driving is not so bad once you get there, especially when your man is behind the wheel and it's a Saturday."
Having arrived rested and pumped to get my art on, I found my childhood sweetheart and Godfather of checkerboard shoes Vans created a cool and innovative way to close the gap between no arts and re-inventing arts education, through an incredibly smart concept; Vans Custom Culture Program. Vans asked students from all over the country to submit shoe designs that tied into four themes of the program: Art, Music, Action Sports, Street Culture/Fashion. Each school received a mix of white Slip-ons, Authentics, 106s, and SK8-Hi's, supplied by Vans. Students were judged on overall creativity, relevance to themes, impact and use of new ideas, as well as documentation of the creative process. The grand prize? A $10,000 donation to the winner's school's arts program. Hello teen motivation.
The response to the contest was overwhelming. Vans received 326 submissions from across 48 states. Students skated through a highly competitive process that narrowed to 20 regional finalists and then to the final four: Franklin Pierce High School (Tacoma, WA), Rio Rancho High School (Rio Rancho, NM), Plainview-Old Bethpage High School (Plainview, NY) and Eastern High School (Louisville, KY).
Each finalist school group scored a paid trip to Southern California, a welcome BBQ, an intimate tour of Vans headquarters in Orange County, a full day at Disneyland and the chance to attend the exhibition of their collection at the OC Museum of Art.
When I arrived inside the museum, the energy in the gallery was truly exhilarating -- a combination of high school prom meets homecoming. We were spectators at the mini super bowl of arts. The mood was infectious. Young, passionate artists from all types of backgrounds surrounded the clear display cases, eavesdropping on conversations in hopes of hearing whispers of comments from questions being posed among attendees. A few students found mustered up the courage to chime in and share their vision with me. The stories of how they arrived at their concepts and designs were unique and told with great details and clarity.
Let's be honest, this was not a throw together art project for school. These designs were well thought out and executed with drive and determination. The kids shredded through this art throw down. But if you ask me, the big winner was Vans itself. They scored about 1300 fresh design ideas from their core demographic, by simply creating an innovative program that spoke to and got their customer directly involved.
I was surprised how attached I became to the designers and their work, I wanted to coordinate a bake sale and raise $10,000 for each school so everyone could win money and get their art on at school. Unfortunately, that isn't how the real world rolls is it? Nope. In the end, I had to let go of my hippy-esque hopes and brace myself for a single winner.
I know there's no crying in action sports, but Vans President, Kevin Bailey, made me cry. He gave a truly heartfelt speech to all the participants prior to announcing the winner. He urged students "no matter who wins, never let anyone take away your creativity, vision and drive." He also said, no matter what job they ended up taking in life, there would always be art inside each of them wanting to come out and to be sure to honor that, always. Was he speaking directly to me? Yes, he was. I'm cleaning up my studio this weekend; a new painting collection is on the horizon.
Contest judges included actress Nikki Reed (Twilight, Lords of Dogtown), skate legend Tony Alva, Keith Morris of Black Flag and Circle Jerks, painter Greg "Pnut" Galinsky and Kristina Dechter, Editor-in-Chief of Foam magazine. Students from Rio Rancho High School in New Mexico ended up dropping in to snag top prize, the school received a $10,000 grant towards the school's art programs. As soon as the winner was announced, students made calls to mom from their cell phones "Mom we won!" and of course there were also calls to parents reporting defeat and disappointment. My heartstrings were being pulled in so many directions. There's no doubt all the students gained so much from this experience; the opportunity for creative expression, teamwork, self-confidence and determination.
While I can't hold my breath, I'd like to believe this showcase will draw attention to the importance of high school art programs nationwide and of course a sweet new collection of Slip-ons for the rest of us.
Vans, you get an A+ for creative effort.
Photos of Vans Custom Culture Program entries can be found here: