Wrangell High School art teacher Tasha Morse said the community has been incredibly generous when it comes to supporting the school’s art program.
But art supplies are expensive, and often on the small island in Southeast Alaska, everything not only costs more but specific items can be difficult to find. The school currently helps raise money for the art department through community fundraising.
“Wrangell is a very generous community,” Morse said. “But when the community is so small and so generous, pockets dry up quickly.”
After finishing in the top five of a national shoe design competition hosted by the company Vans, the Wrangell art department will get a much-needed infusion of funds amounting to a $15,000 award. The winner was announced Thursday, with Moanalua High School in Honolulu, Hawaii, taking the $50,000 top prize.
There are 62 students enrolled at Wrangell High School. So, when one of them saw an ad on TikTok for the Vans Custom Culture contest, the idea quickly spread through the school to Paige Baggen, a dedicated art student. Morse, who also teaches music, helped get the school’s application going, with help from the school counselor.
Vans only selects 250 schools from across the country to participate, so when Morse heard that they were sending two pairs of Vans shoes to Wrangell, she was shocked and excited. For the contest, one pair had to reflect hometown pride while the second was based on the Van D(IY)oren Legacy theme, which has four pillars: action sports, art, music and street culture.
The students working on the project all brainstormed together, asking the question, “What makes Wrangell, Wrangell?” and filling a dry erase board with ideas.
The students submitted their designs in early April. They were chosen by judges at the shoe company as one of the top 50 competitors. Then, public voting from April 25 until May 5 determined the winners.
Last week, the school was chosen one of five finalists, guaranteeing them $15,000 as a runner-up.
The first pair of Vans that Wrangell High School turned in were designed as moccasins, dedicated to their Tlingit heritage. They are red and black, with buttons on the heels and marten fur around the ankles. The fur was trapped and prepared by one of the students.
The second pair of shoes, the Hometown Pride pair, highlights the seasons in Wrangell. The left shoe features a beautiful summer sunset over the water, with fireworks around the heel as a nod to Wrangell’s annual July 4 celebration. The right shoe features the snow-covered road in Wrangell, and northern lights wrap around the heel.
Along with the shoe designs, the school also submitted an impact document. That included an explanation of how the Wrangell High School art department would be impacted by the award money, the inspiration behind the shoe designs and the students who were involved.
Morse said that their impact document highlighted the natural beauty of Alaska and of Wrangell and explained the impact of the funding would have, not only on the high school art department, but the community of Wrangell as a whole.
There is only one art class available for students, and sometimes students who are interested in art don’t have the space or flexibility in their schedule to sign up for it. The funds from the contest will help Wrangell support art education for students through other means, like online classes. Students will also have easier access to art supplies and the resources to pursue a more well-rounded art education.