The Right to Art

On March 16, 1966, brothers Paul and James Van Doren alongside their two business partners, Serge D’Elia and Gordon Lee, opened the very first Vans store in Anaheim, Calif. Known then as the Van Doren Rubber Company, 12 customers purchased shoes on that first morning. Forgetting to put cash in the registers, Paul took the orders and told the customers they could return at another time to pay him back. It was Paul’s belief in people that would instill the power of integrity in the Vans brand for 50 years to come.

The Van Doren’s dedication to quality, unique craftsmanship and creative style has held true to this day, making Vans one of the largest youth culture brands in the world. Whether it’s through action sports, art, music or street culture, our mission at Vans has remained authentic, yet simple: empower creative expression and inspire youth culture.

Everything we do at Vans is to encourage and embrace creative expression in youth culture. We’ve all been there; that messy time in our lives when we fumble through the personal discovery of our true unique self through the music, art, activities and sense of style we each as individuals subscribe to. At Vans, we celebrate those moments.

“Off The Wall” isn’t just our logo, they are the words we live by.

This year, Vans pays homage to 50 years of “Off The Wall” heritage. And yeah, this milestone is reason enough to throw a party, but we’ve decided to go even bigger. That’s why we’re dedicating our golden anniversary and our continued future to elevating the thing that has helped us remain authentic for five decades — our commitment to inspiring creative expression among future generations. And we’re inviting you to the celebration.

Global House of Vans Events

Throughout 2016, we’ll be expanding the footprint of our House of Vans concept spaces — cultural hubs dedicated to inspiring genuine connections, creativity and unique experiences in creative communities around the world. With permanent hubs already located in New York and London, we’ll be introducing pop-up experiences in several new locations where we’ll host a variety of events including skateboarding demos, music events, interactive design workshops and art installations.

Supporting the Education of Future Musicians

House of Vans is just one example of what we have in store for this year. We’ll continue our support for music education through our scholarship program with Berklee College of Music, the world’s leading college of contemporary music. The Vans Berklee Off the Wall Scholarship has so far been awarded to two talented and deserving young musicians covering four years of tuition and room-and-board costs for each recipient.

Last year’s recipient, 18-year-old singer-songwriter Leila Goodrum from Brookfield, WI, is now studying songwriting and vocal performance. “I didn’t honestly expect to be able to attend Berklee for financial reasons, but I applied anyway because it is my dream school and even just to be accepted would have been amazing,” said Goodrum. “This scholarship is making a pretty big difference in my life. I’m looking forward to learning and developing my musicianship at Berklee.”

As a guitarist since the age of eight, the Vans Berklee scholarship is a dream for me too, as I understand the importance of quality instructors and developing your own style in music. I’m proud to work for a brand that values these types of opportunities for youth.

Custom Shoes by Design

A failed attempt at art school, but an ongoing passion for creating my own art means Vans Custom Culture is a personal favorite of mine. Vans Custom Culture is a national design competition that challenges high schools to customize Vans shoes around specific themes. Through this program, Vans hopes to raise awareness around the declining investment in arts education across the country, and affords students a means to express their Right to Art.

Since launching in 2010, more than 10 percent of high schools nationally have participated in the Vans Custom Culture design competition and more than $600,000 has been donated directly to high school art programs.

We believe a program like Vans Custom Culture is imperative for both celebrating the importance of arts education in high schools, and for defending it. Today, funding for arts education is in danger of further erosion, with cuts seen in more than 80 percent of U.S. schools since 2008.

We believe everyone should be empowered to express themselves creatively AND be given the tools to do so.

Each year, a grand prize of $50,000 is awarded to the winning school’s art program — and what a difference it has made. Whether it’s investing in computer resources so students have access to better design programs, or creating an art studio equipped with the best quality tools and resources, we leave it up to each school to invest the funds however they need it most.

Shoes designed by 2015 Vans Custom Culture winners Carlsbad High School

As we continue the 2016 competition, the public can now vote and help drive the Right to Art across the country. Now through May 11 at 5pm PT, anyone can visit and have a say in which high school should advance to the Top 5 and win $50,000 for their school’s art program. Click here to pick your favorite design.

Five decades ago, Paul Van Doren said that Vans was a people company that sold shoes. We may be a little older now, but that vision remains the same. Our founders instilled a culture that not only celebrates creativity, but also fights for it, and we look forward to carrying on that mission for the next fifty.

You can follow the movement on Instagram @vans.custom.culture and by using the hashtags #RightToArt and #VansCustomCulture. To learn more about the competition process please visit

Author: Bringing more than 25 years of brand leadership and retail experience with global brands, Kevin Bailey serves as President of Vans and oversees VF Corporation brands, Reef and Eagle Creek, as well as VF’s North, Central, and South American operations. Bailey also serves on the Board of Directors of the Two Ten Foundation, a charitable organization committed to strengthening the footwear community with financial, social and educational support.