Tasha Morse, an art teacher at Wrangell High School, said the community has been incredibly generous when it comes to supporting the school’s arts program.
But art supplies are expensive, and often on the small southeast Alaskan island, not only does everything cost more, but specific items can be hard to find. The school currently helps raise funds for the art department through community fundraisers.
“Wrangell is a very generous community,” Morse said. “But when the community is so small and so generous, the pockets dry up quickly.”
After finishing in the top five of a national shoe design competition organized by the Vans company, Wrangell’s art department will receive a much-needed injection of funds in the amount of $15,000. The winner was announced Thursday, with Moanalua High School in Honolulu, Hawaii taking home the top prize of $50,000.
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 around the school to dedicated art student Paige Baggen. Morse, who also teaches music, helped pitch the school’s bid, with help from the school counselor.
[Previously: Wrangell High School students flash their ‘hometown pride’ in national shoe design competition]
Vans only selects 250 schools across the country to participate, so when Morse learned 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 is based on 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 fill a dry erase board with ideas.
The students submitted their drawings in early April. They were chosen by the shoe company judges as one of the top 50 competitors. Then, a public vote from April 25 to May 5 determined the winners.
Last week, the school was chosen as one of the five finalists, guaranteeing them $15,000 as a finalist.
The first pair of Vans Wrangell High School returned were designed as loafers, 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 4th of July celebration. The right shoe depicts the snowy road to Wrangell and the Northern Lights wrap around the heel.
In addition to the shoe designs, the school also submitted an impact document. This included an explanation of how the art department at Wrangell High School would be impacted by the prize money, the inspiration behind the shoe designs, and the students who were involved.
Morse said their impact document highlighted the natural beauty of Alaska and Wrangell and explained the impact of the funding, not just on the high school’s art department, but on the Wrangell community as a whole. .
There is only one art class available to students, and sometimes students who are interested in art don’t have the space or flexibility in their schedule to enroll in it. Funds from the competition will help Wrangell support students’ arts education in other ways, such as online classes. Students will also have easier access to art supplies and resources needed to pursue a more comprehensive art education.