Uni students make shoes their canvas for the Vans Custom Culture art contest


Two University High School students recently turned popular footwear into pieces of art for the Vans Custom Culture art contest, and we’ve just learned that their collective entry has placed them among 50 national semifinalists.

Now it’s up to you, the public, to decide who makes it to the next round by voting here.

Uni junior Aki Barbar and senior Katherine Wang – they’re pictured from left to right – customized four pairs of shoes for the fourth annual contest, which is billed as a way to promote creativity while drawing attention to the importance of art in schools. In all, teams from 1,500 public and private high schools from throughout the U.S. had a chance to redesign their own Vans kicks, which, per contest rules, had to represent one of four themes: action sports, music, art or local flavor.

Uni junior Aki Barbar, left, and senior Katherine Wang display their customized kicks for the Vans Custom Culture art contest.

Participants uploaded photos of their projects from Feb. 25 through April 5, and Vans staff narrowed the field down to 50 semifinalists, or 10 from each geographic region. Uni was the only Orange County school to make it into California’s top 10.

“It wasn’t until a week or two before the deadline that Aki and I really came together and became serious about this,” Katherine told us via email. “Our ideas flowed extremely well together and our four pairs of shoes ended up having an Oriental theme. We also made sure to incorporate a variety of styles in our shoes: the ‘music shoes’ are classical, the ‘art shoes’ are elegant, the ‘local flavor shoes’  are graphic and the ‘action sports shoes’  take on a mix of traditional art with a modern twist.”

“The support we have been receiving has been awesome,” she added, “especially from (art teacher) Ms. Kramer, our friends, and the UHS community.”

Online voting for the next round started this week, with one vote allowed per IP address, and May 13 is the deadline to choose your favorite. Five finalists will be selected the following day, and each will get a travel budget to fly to New York, where celebrity guests are expected to announce a grand prize winner.

That team will earn $50,000 for its school’s art program, while the four runners-up will be awarded $4,000 each for their programs. The Journeys shoe and apparel company also plans to present a separate award of $10,000 to the school with the team that produces the best “Local Flavor”-themed shoe.

To learn more about the contest, or to cast your vote, click here.