The only reason Warren Mott High School senior Amya Leak signed up for an art class this semester was because she had a free spot in her daily schedule and it was the only course available at that time.
But it was Leak who ended up leading a special art project with her classmates, which allowed her creativity to flourish in ways she never thought possible.
A group of art students from Mott entered the 2022 Vans Custom Culture National High School Contest and last week they were notified that their project had reached the final 50. The winning school will receive $50,000 to be used by the school’s art program; there will be four second prizes of $15,000.
Students were given a pair of classic Vans slip-on shoes and a pair of lace-up shoes and asked to turn them into works of art. Each pair of shoes had to have a distinct theme: one had to represent hometown pride and the other celebrate the legacy of Vans founder Paul VanDoren and the skateboarding lifestyle encompassing music, art, street culture and action sports.
Rachel Marchesi, an art teacher at Mott, saw an Instagram post from Vans about the contest. She told her students about it and offered extra course credit to any student who turned in a sketch of a Vans shoe.
“I was so scared that someone else would turn in their sketch and be cast,” Leak said. “I started sketching in February and had the idea of using pistons in the design to represent the automotive industry. I did little models of pistons and that’s what happens. found around the soles of hometown pride shoes.
Each of the six students who collaborated on the project – Leak, Le’Mia Lewis, Emma Dishman, Cole Morrisroe, Genevy Hong and Alana Leak – added something to the mix. Freshman art student Morrisroe paid homage to Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts by adding his own version of the famous artwork to his hometown pride shoes .
“One of the parts of this project that I’m so proud of is the depiction of Diego Rivera’s mural, because it was done by a student who had never painted before,” Marchesi said. “A student hoping to get into accessory design after high school created the Ambassador Bridge piece on the back of the shoe.”
Leak shaped the pistons and his sister Alana created a scale model of downtown Detroit using individually cut pieces of foam on top of one of the hometown pride shoes. The top of the other shoe has a map of Detroit and a collage of landmarks like the Spirit of Detroit statue, the Joe Louis Fist and the mover.
“My sister used a three-dimensional Google Earth map as a model for her model of downtown Detroit,” Amya Leak said. “And Cole did such a great job on the mural. He is best known as an athlete and this is the first time he has done this kind of project.
The shoes honoring the Vans lifestyle have laces made of gold chains, a collage of vinyl records and on the top of one shoe a pair of hands reaching upwards holding a portable boom box radio with musical notes floating.
“Street culture is flamboyant and shiny and that’s why we went with a lot of gold in the design of these shoes,” said Amya Leak. “We even replaced ordinary shoelaces with gold chains.
“I love all the colors on this project. I really had no idea how this was all going to turn out because what I was working on – the pistons – were dull and metallic but everyone added something different and it went well.
Marchesi said that in addition to the artistic experience and creative stimulation provided by the project, the project has also brought its students together in a way that has not been possible during much of the COVID pandemic.
“Kids needed some collaborative fun after being in online school for a year,” Marchesi said. “This project brought together kids who didn’t normally hang out together and also, I think a lot of students who didn’t see art as a career are thinking about it now.”
In order to win the Vans Custom Culture contest, Mott’s art students need people to vote for their project. To vote for Warren Mott, go to customculture.vans.com/2022/gallery and enter your email. Scroll down to Warren Mott High School and vote. Voting is open until May 6 and each individual is allowed to vote once per day.
“Art programs are so underfunded in general, we’re really hoping to make money so we can do new and exciting things here at Mott,” Marchesi said.