Eastern Students in the Running for $50,000 Vans Custom Sneaker Contest

School team continues its stride as top competitor for award

April 28, 2021 – Eastern High School is in the running to win $50,000 for its arts program – and it has the shoes to make it possible.

Eastern has been chosen as one of only 50 schools in the country to compete for the top prize in this year’s National Vans Custom Culture contest. Winners are determined by popular vote, and people can cast one vote per day until voting closes at 8 p.m. EST on May 7.  Click here to vote.

The school’s entries include “Local Pride,” which feature scenes of Old Louisville and images of roses and a Pegasus to represent the Kentucky Derby.  A second entry, “Head in the Clouds,” includes painted portraits of Eastern students, photos of the Louisville Zoo lantern event, and rhinestones representing the KMAC Museum Fashion Show. 

Eastern, which has participated in the competition for the past 11 years, is the only school in Kentucky this year to make it to the top 50 in the contest. The school has made it to the top five in seven of those years, winning $5,000 for the arts department each time.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” said art teacher Trisha Hamilton-Cooper, who sponsors Eastern’s Vans team.  “Usually we have about 120 kids who apply to get on the team. They love it.  In a typical year we have a marketing team, artists, photographers – it’s almost like having a small company in your school.”

For senior Anna Ruffra, who’s been part of the Vans team for the past two years, the effort is about more than just coloring sneakers.

“It’s a more collaborative aspect – that’s harder than painting the actual shoes,” she said. “You need to make sure the ideas are congruent, and everything you want to put on the shoes is going to work. Especially with being virtual, we had to have group chats to communicate, and sent photos.  Without communicating everything would probably have fallen apart.”

Anna plans to pursue a career in graphic design after high school. In addition to gaining practical experience in her chosen field, the Vans competition has given her the opportunity to leave a lasting impact on her school’s arts program.

“It would mean the world. I would feel so much joy because it would benefit so many people and keep the arts department alive and thriving,” she said. “I want to inspire and encourage people to appreciate the arts.”

Vans High School Custom Culture was created to inspire and empower high school students to embrace their creativity through art and design and bring attention to diminishing arts education budgets. Custom Culture High School is a national high school customization competition using blank Vans shoes to be customized around the specific themes, Hometown Pride and Head in the Clouds.