Vans stepped up big time this spring with a creative contest to get kids motivated about art, fashion and design. Teenagers from across the country were asked to customize four different styles of sneakers. 326 schools from 48 states took the challenge and sent in entries. The finished products were incredible: shoes that showcased cities like Seattle and landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, slip-ons with an octopus’s tentacles stretching down from the tongue and others paying tribute to music, the environment and art history. The field was eventually narrowed to a final four showdown at the Orange County Museum of Art in May. To the winner – an all-expenses paid trip for the whole class to Southern California and a $10,000 check for the high school’s art department.

The students from Rio Rancho High School in Rio Rancho, New Mexico beat out the other finalists from Louisville, Kentucky, Tacoma, Washington and Plainview, New York. Some 67,000+ votes were cast online to determine the winner. The four designs sent in by Rio Rancho included elements of portraiture, landscape, abstraction, use of the written word and a color palette that shifted easily from sub-culture dark to vibrant, primary pop. Celebrity judges on hand at the Orange County Museum of Art included Nikki Reed (Twilight), skate legend Tony Alva, Keith Morris from the band Black Flag and painter Greg “Pnut” Galinsky. So congratulations to Matthew Lutz’s art class at Rio Rancho for its deserving win, and kudos to Vans for walking the “make a difference” walk. At a time when districts nationwide are slashing art education funding, Vans demonstrated what it’s like to truly put the shoe on the right foot.