Students Embrace Their Creativity through Custom Culture

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen, Jun 18, 2014 3 comments

A winning school is picked by vote, based on a set of four uniquely designed VANS shoes.


Editors Note: Americans for the Arts has partnered with VANS for the past two years on their Custom Culture program. Last night in New York City was the final event, where the winning shoe design was picked. Below are remarks that our Arts Education Program Manager made during the event:

Hello, my name is Kristen, and I'm the Arts Education Program Manager at Americans for the Arts. Whether you like to sing in the shower, dance like no one is watching, or design the next great VANS shoe, we want to support that. Our motto is "All the Arts for All the People."

We firmly believe that the arts have the power to transform lives. In fact, last year we had the privilege of featuring an artist at our annual convention named Inocente. Her story is nothing short of incredible. As a teenager, Inocente was homeless, the victim of abuse, and the daughter to undocumented immigrants. Her life had hit rock bottom until one day she walked into an arts center in San Diego called A Reason to Survive. She began painting, and indeed, it gave her a reason to survive. She graduated from high school and selling her art kept her from living on the streets. Her powerful transformation was featured in the Oscar winning documentary, Inocente.

Inocente designed these as an ambassador for Custom Culture. Inocente designed these as an ambassador for Custom Culture.


Americans for the Arts knows that learning in the arts enables every individual to develop the critical thinking, collaborative, and creative skills necessary to not only survive but thrive in today's ever-changing world. And so when VANS approached us a few years ago about partnering on Custom Culture, we could see that they too value the arts as an integral part of all students' education. Together we hope to encourage high school students to embrace their creativity and inspire a new generation of youth culture.

Not only do we do that through this Custom Culture event, but also through two key programs that I want to briefly mention:

VANS has sponsored our production of several e-books about the importance of arts in schools. The books help equip parents, students, and

Winning school, Rio Rancho, is in New Mexico Winning school, Rio Rancho, is in New Mexico


advocates with the knowledge, statistics, and case-making techniques needed to effectively communicate the value of the arts to education leaders. For instance, did you know that only 3% of elementary schools nationwide offer dance? Or that students who take more arts classes have a higher graduation rate than those that don't? You can check out these facts and more at

But to me, the most exciting aspect of our partnership is what happens after tonight's winner is picked. As you know, the winning shoe design is manufactured by VANS and sold in retail stores. What you might not know is that VANS donates a portion of those shoe sales to Americans for the Arts and together we administer a grant program to schools across the country that need money for art and music classes. This investment and reinvestment of time, resources, and money by VANS into arts education is what I like to call a virtuous cycle of giving.

2014 marks the third time that Rio Rancho has won the Custom Culture Competition! 2014 marks the third time that Rio Rancho has won the Custom Culture Competition!


I want to thank VANS for recognizing the need for creativity in our education system and for being such an excellent partner. I want to thank both the team from VANS and my colleagues from AFTA that are here with me tonight. Together, we have produced the e-books, administer the VANS grants, and of course, spread the word about Custom Culture!

Not everyone here who designed a shoe will go on to be an artist, like Inocente. But every single person here will be a better student, employee, or citizen if they indeed embrace their creativity. And Americans for the Arts is honored to be a part of an event that is celebrating that fact tonight. Thank you!


3 responses for Students Embrace Their Creativity through Custom Culture


Tony Fullini says
June 26, 2014 at 3:44 pm

This is absolutely fabulous. I would love to see some abstract art on shoes like that, or better yet the new style pop art with faces. Not sure exactly what you call it, it's a mixture between pop art and abstraction, you can see canvas paintings at

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June 24, 2015 at 4:13 pm

I truly congratulate these kids for their talent and ingenuity. And I do agree with the article that not everyone that was part of the design will go on and become an artist, but the fact that they participated, opened doors in their minds for further education and that in itself is a win! Creativity is a beautiful thing.

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April 19, 2015 at 9:51 am

It is refreshing to see young talent at work. The more the students design, the better they will get. And while some only do it as a hobby, others will have wonderful careers. As a furniture manufacturer, we can appreciate design talent as we are always seeking new and fresh ideas. Maybe some of these young artists will one day want to design furniture. We always welcome their ideas and for more information find us at

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