Winning the grand prize in the Vans Custom Culture Art Competition has long been a dream of the talented Fontainebleau High School art teacher, Jessica Danby, and her students.
This year their dream came true and brought in $ 50,000 in prizes for the school’s art program.
The annual competition allows high schools to transform plain white Vans sneakers into colorful canvases that represent defined themes. Danby and his students have entered consecutively for the past eight years and have come close to winning twice before. They were Top 5 finalists in 2017 and 2018.
âIt took every competition and every year that we entered this competition to get to this point. It’s not just that we signed up and got it, âsaid Trent McKinney, one of four seniors who designed this year’s shoes.
Others included Ann Crabtree, Kate Hankins and Olivia Stewart.
Ultimately, being named the grand prize winner – it happened at an online event where Danby opened a box filled with confetti with the check – still seems surreal to her and her students.
âYou have this dream that you think will never come true. But you feel like you have to try it anyway, âsaid Danby, who teaches students in his Visual Art II and Visual Art IV courses in the Talented Arts program. âNow that we’ve achieved that goal, I’m like, ‘I know it happened, but it looks weird.’
Under the rules of the 12-year-old contest, schools across the country digitally submitted sketches for two different themes: Hometown Pride and Head in the Clouds. The California-based company approved designs from 1,000 schools and sent them each a pair of lace-up sneakers and a pair of skate shoes. The students then had five weeks to personalize them.
Vans and its contest sponsors – Journeys, Yoobi, and Scholarship America – picked the top 50 schools after the finished shoes were sent to them. Then voters used their computers and mobile devices to nominate the top five finalists.
Danby said she thought Fontainebleau got the grand prize after so many more tries because the students decided they “just needed to show off the silhouette of the shoe,” she said . “We’ve tried to keep things where you can always see every aspect of the shoe.”
Crabtree and McKinney created the Hometown Pride design taking inspiration from James Michalopoulos and Terrance Osborne, two favorite New Orleans artists, and local architecture.
âWe went a little bit crazy with the background and used abstract patterns which was fun,â Crabtree said.
On one shoe, there’s a colorful New Orleans home with floor-to-ceiling windows, porches, and more. The balsa moss and masking tape were shaped into a planter filled with plants on the heel.
The other shoe represents the Abita Mystery House in Abita Springs. Its heel has a balsa wood capital. It was inspired by the “Be Nice or Leave” signs by New Orleans folk artist, Dr. Bob.
Hankins and Stewart addressed sustainability in their âHead in the Cloudsâ shoes and were aided in their execution by sophomores Hayden Crowder, Lily Mattison, Julia Sutton, Paige Thiriot, Kylie Waller, Baya Williams and Sophie Zenzer.
There are miniature healthy fruits, vegetables and other foods – created with felt and embroidery thread on the toes of both shoes – that show the need for a return to sustainable agriculture. Ideas for four different energy sources of renewal are painted on the side panels of the shoes.
âThey show a greener future,â said Stewart.
âWhat’s really cool is that we didn’t buy anything to make them,â Hankins added, referring to the competition’s added sustainability challenge – creating the shoes using only the materials they had available. All of the materials were scuffs from previous projects.
Danby said she was grateful to the students “for working so hard and always giving me their best,” Danby said. “I appreciate their dedication and I thank Vans for giving us this opportunity.”
Now she’s thinking about how best to spend the $ 50,000. Among his ideas – which were to be shared with Vans under the contest rules – were new worktables and supplies; pay for school trips for art students; establish a scholarship program for Fontainebleau students who will specialize in art; and the professional development of art teachers in the Fontainebleau preparatory schools.
âThere’s a ton of stuff,â she said. âIt could go very quicklyâ¦. I want to spend it wisely, but also keep it because it has to last.
“This will never happen again,” she added, referring to the fact that grand prize winners are not allowed to participate in future Custom Culture contests.
Students have their own ideas of how they would like to see the money spent, including the murals around campus; securing more and better supplies for the art program; and by donating funds to art programs in elementary, middle and high schools that feed Fontainebleau.
âWe all obviously love art and the arts in high school. It is really important to see other children benefit from the experiences that we have to have. And maybe even better, âMcKinney said.