Cypress, CA (April 26, 2011) – Vans announces that starting today, Tuesday, April 26th, consumers will have the opportunity to select the five top finalists for the 2011 Vans Custom Culture program. The national contest, in its second year, allows students to design their own collection of Vans sneakers for the chance to win $50,000 towards their high school art program. Additionally, the winning school's designs will be available at retail in 2012. Starting today, the general public will have the ability to view the shoe designs from 50 semi-finalists at and help move five schools to the final phase.

"We had a tough job this year narrowing down to the 50 semi-finalists," said Doug Palladini, Vans' Vice President of Marketing. "We were absolutely blown away by the talent coming out of these schools and it just cements our position even further that we must take action to ensure that arts education remains a core subject. As we say about Custom Culture, there’s no art to education without Art in education."

The 50 semi-finalists were chosen by Vans from a pool of nearly 400 entrants from all 50 states. Consumers may vote for their favorite school in each region (Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Southwest and California) for one week only from April 26st until the polls close at 11:59 pm ET on May 2nd.

Representatives from the top school in each of the five regions will fly to New York in June to take part in the final exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. There, a judging panel of industry experts will deliberate and select the winning school. Judges this year include artist, Mister Cartoon; musician, Jordan Buckley; skateboarder, Tony Alva; and fashion expert, Nicole Young. There will also be a celebrity judge on the panel, announced at a later time.

Lack of funding for arts education has become a national epidemic that led Vans to create an annual contest to help inspire kids to enact change in their own communities. In New York alone, schools experienced a decrease of 20.8 percent across their arts budgets from 2009 to 2010 and a 34.4 percent decline in their funds for art supplies and equipment. NYC Department of Education. (2010) Annual Arts in Schools Report.

And New York is not alone – schools across the country are experiencing significant budget cuts that are leading the eradication of arts education entirely.

Art programs encourage innovation and nonlinear thinking, skills that can be used not only in academic settings but in the professional world as well. Last year, IBM asked 1,500 corporate CEOs from 33 industries to name their top "leadership competency" and they ranked creativity first. Vans' Custom Culture program strives to provide students the incentive and opportunity to get creative while making a positive change in their schools and communities.

Consumer voting begins at 12:00 am EST on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 and ends at 11:59 pm EST on Monday, May 2, 2011. Consumers can visit to vote for their favorite designs