Vans shoes designed and created by Dos Pueblos High School students

Dos Pueblos High School made it to the finals of the Vans Shoe Design Contest in 2011, and this year a team of 12 juniors and seniors are right back at it. The Santa Barbara school has reached the semi-final round of this year’s competition.

The contest is part of the Vans Custom Culture program, which invites schools across the country to customize their own shoes for a chance to win money for their art programs. Registered high schools were each sent four pairs of Vans sneakers in February. Students then had about three weeks to design the sneakers based on four themes — art, music, action sports, and local flavor — before submitting images to Vans in early April. Vans selected semi-finalists by April 22, when the vote for the final round was opened to the public.

Yuliana Salazar painting the music shoe

This year’s team of Dos Pueblos art students — Cecilia Hurtado, Jonathan Haikkala, Olivia Lafferty, Renee Krieger, Yuliana Salazar, William Pan, Jodi Balster, Helen Yang, Matt Freegard, Natalie Wyss, Agnetta Cleleand, and Sophie Russo — first met as a large group for a brainstorming session, explained art and sculpture instructor Diana Hemsley and art department chair Eliesa Bollinger.

After some guidance with the sneaker design, the students took charge. “The only help students received from art teachers was direction in choosing designs for final shoe entries, supplies, and encouragement,” said Hemsley. The students created all the artwork based on the given themes, Bollinger elaborated.

This year the team decided to use street art as the overarching theme for each pair of shoes, explained Olivia Lafferty, a senior at Dos Pueblos High School and member of the art team, in a phone interview. The challenge was combining realistic drawing and painting under the street theme, Lafferty continued.

The students used a combination of acrylic and Copic markers, first coating the sneakers in white acrylic and then detailing with markers, said Hemsley.

For the action sports theme, the team designed a pair of high-top sneakers, integrating quintessential elements of California living: sun, sand, and surf. A pair of slip-ons boasts the music theme, on which the students drew a young girl listening to music and imagining herself at a concert.

Jodi Balster with art shoe

The final two pairs represent the local flavor and art themes. The Vans Classic sneakers capture Santa Barbara’s local flavor with vivid illustrations of the Chumash people, who are indigenous to S.B. County and the Channel Islands. “This pair of shoes is a tribute to their rich culture and beautiful home,” said Bollinger. The last pair of sneakers depicts a large spray can and graffiti, connecting the art theme to Santa Barbara’s popular “anonymous” art scene, said Hemsley.

The contest has grown in size over the years. In 2011, the winner of the contest received a prize of $20,000. This year each finalist receives a $4,000 reward, with the victor raking in a whopping $50,000 for its school’s art department. The finalists also win a trip to New York City for the final event, where the winner will be selected.

If Dos Pueblos High School wins, its art program would use the funds for department enrichment, such as workshops, field trips, murals, group projects, and other things it cannot usually afford, explained Hemsley and Bollinger, acknowledging that public school art programs are underfunded.

The team of 12 art students has garnered a ton of support from its peers. The school’s DP News has been instrumental in informing the campus community about the contest and pushing students to vote, said Lafferty.

The aim now is to spread awareness to the surrounding Goleta and Santa Barbara communities, explained Lafferty. “We need more people in the community to support us,” she said, pointing out that local community members’ votes are vital to the team’s advancing in the competition.

Hemsley and Bollinger also summoned the support of the community to overcome a competitor school in Los Angeles. Voting for the semi-final round ends Monday, May 13 at 11:59 p.m. To vote, visit


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