Watch Your Step: Visual arts students enter the Vans Custom Culture contest

Vans Custom Culture

Photo courtesy of Meagan Shirlen

The Vans Custom Culture Contest is a nation-wide high school competition created to inspire arts students and bring attention to decreasing arts education budgets. Shoe entries are narrowed down to the top 50 schools, and later the top five. The top five schools in the contest are flown to Los Angeles to celebrate their work and have judges vote to choose the final winner of the $50,000 grand prize. Although Northwood did not place into the top 50, the shoes remain a showcase of student artwork.

Board Sports

“We looked at Samoan tattoos to come up with the wave design on the edge of our shoes. We have a very curly, almost cinnamon-roll looking design, and that’s where that came from. I also looked at lots of native Hawaiian flowers.”

— Anna Pickens, sophomore


“I based the shoes off of Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday…. On the backs of the shoes I have a picture of the world to symbolize the song ‘What a Wonderful World,’ but it also represents how music brings people together.”

— Hannah Weigle, sophomore

Local Flare

“We painted parts of Bynum Bridge, some landscapes of the beach and the mountains and some hometown things like S&T’s…. You can’t use ‘North Carolina’ anywhere, but you have to make it so someone can look at the shoes and know that they’re from N.C.”   

— Morgan Roberts, sophomore


“We chose art history in general for our shoes, and we decided to include Egyptian art because we come from many different places, and so we were pulling things from different cultures and different time periods.”

— Dakota McLean, senior

“They’re really beautiful. I really love how they turned out, and I think that [students] could take away that we’ve created something really fabulous. It’s not about winning, it’s more about coming together as a group of people.”  — Visual Arts Teacher Leslie Burwell

– By Leah Kallam