SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – A group of South Plainfield High School (SPHS) art students are seeking the community’s support to help them win a national contest and a monetary prize for their school’s art program. 

“I have only been teaching art at South Plainfield High School for seven months—and each day I am blown away by the aspirations, creativity and spirit of the students at SPHS,” said art teacher Kristen Brinkman. 

In January, Brinkman, who joined the district in September, entered her Advanced Studio Class into the 2018 Vans Custom Culture contest and, a few weeks later, learned SPHS had been selected as one of 500 high schools in the United States to take part in the national customization competition. 

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Over the weeks that followed, the students in 10th through 12th grade put their creative skills to work to customize two pairs of white Vans – one slip on and one pair of Vans authentics – around the themes ‘Local Flavor’ and ‘Off the Wall.’ The art students dedicated their time during class and after school to meet the respective themes, creating a ‘Garden State’ shoe – complete with the state fruit, insect, and more – and a ‘New Jersey Boardwalk’ shoe that features a rollercoaster and Ferris wheel. They also worked with students in Chris Cassio’s A.M. Broadcast Class to stage and photograph their designs by the March 30 deadline. 

On the afternoon of April 19, Brinkman was notified via email that her students’ creations had been selected into the top 50. 

“I am so thankful that all of their hard work was rewarded and that their creativity and ideas are being acknowledged,” said Brinkman. 

Now, it’s up to the public - including friends, family, and members of the community - to vote and help secure South Plainfield’s spot in the top five.  Online voting at began the morning of April 23 and will run until Friday, May 4. 

According to the contest website, the five designs that receive the most votes will be eligible for a $75,000 grand prize for their school’s art program. Vans will select the top winner with the four runners up each receiving $10,000 for their school’s program. Additionally, the school that wins the grand prize will also receive a visit from Vans and a lunchtime celebration with food, drinks and musical entertainment. Notification of the top five will be made the week of May 7. 

“Winning $10,000 would be great; winning $75,000 would be amazing,” Brinkman told TAPinto South Plainfield, adding that one of her goals since joining the district in September is to increase awareness of South Plainfield’s art program. 

“I would love to give the students at SPHS more access to the abundance of art around them. I want each student to feel that their specific art interest is valid and considered, and for them to feel in awe of what they’re able to create,” said Brinkman. “The Vans Custom Culture donation would be the greatest gift to them.” 

As part of the contest’s submission requirement, Brinkman was required to submit an ‘impact’ statement explaining how the $75,000 donation would benefit SPHS, its students, and art programs. For Brinkman, who is currently serving her first year as a teacher at SPHS, the money would meet the art department’s goal of seeing the ‘artistic vision of South Plainfield High School grow.’ Brinkman, who also teaches Art Exploration at SPHS along with Andrew Casano, said that prize money would enable the school to host a community arts festival and integrate more Apple computers equipped with Adobe Suite into the art curriculum. It would also be used to fund field trips and offset the cost of 3-D materials and art supplies. 

“There needs to be more excitement surrounding art and what it can achieve for students, the community, and society as a whole,” she said. “The wish of my students (and myself) is for the entire community to become interested, invested, and inspired by the art being created in our schools.”

“South Plainfield has so much to offer in terms of academics, athletics and the arts and this is just another example of the great work of students and teachers do,” added Principal Ronnie Spring. “I am thrilled that Ms. Brinkman decided to take part in this contest; it was her idea and 100-percent student driven. It is so exciting to be at this level but we need everyone to vote and support us.”

To vote for the shoe designs created by students in South Plainfield High School’s Advanced Studio Art class, visit and select ‘South Plainfield High School.’ You can cast one vote per email address per day up until 8 p.m. May 4. 

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