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Featured Article: “The art of sneakersBy Elizabeth Paton

Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street’, a new exhibition at the Design Museum in London, explores sneakers both historically and as an art form. “It offers positive proof, if any, that we live in the age of the sneaker,” writes Elizabeth Paton.

In this lesson, you will learn how different people and communities view sneakers as an art and a culture. Then we invite you to design your own sneaker or designate a favorite sneaker to showcase in this exhibition.

What role have sneakers played in our lives and in society throughout history? Watch the exhibition trailer for “Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street” and answer the following questions:

  • Are you interested in any of the images in the video?

  • Are any of the featured sneakers – or sneaker wearers – familiar to you?

  • What is your relationship, if any, to sneakers and sneaker culture? Are sneakers just a comfortable or practical item of clothing for playing sports and walking? Or are they central to your fashion choices and your identity?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. According to the article, what are some of the reasons why sneakers are so popular and profitable?

2. In the article, Virgil Abloh, director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, said that many young people “may value sneakers more than a Matisse.” What is your reaction to this statement? Do you and your peers appreciate sneakers more than the traditionally accepted fine art? Do you think there is an argument to be made for sneakers to be considered art?

3. How does Ligaya Salazar, the curator of “Sneakers Unboxed” see sneakers both artistically and academically?

4. What preservation problems has the museum had to solve? What do these issues reflect on the changing purpose and meaning of sneakers?

5. What role have young people played in the way sneakers are viewed today?

6. Describe the sneaker culture in your school and community. Are people proud to show off their new sneakers, doing all they can to keep them clean, and swooning over pictures of new sneakers online? Or are sneakers only worn for comfort or sport?

7. How do sneakers, and how they are viewed by others, relate to identity and beliefs about nationality, class and race?

8. What are the new ideas on sustainable sneakers? Would you be interested in wearing one? Why or why not?

Option 1: Submit a sneaker for a sneaker museum.

Imagine that you are part of the curatorial team for the “Sneakers Unboxed” exhibition: which sneaker would you absolutely want to include? It could be a sneaker that you have a personal connection with – maybe one from your own collection that evokes special memories – or one that you have admired from afar – a pair that you have read or have had heard about it and occupies an important place in the society, culture and landscape of sneakers.

Write an ode, from a formal address that often uses high style and language, to the sneakers you’d like to see at the Design Museum. You can use a famous ode, like that of Pablo Neruda “Ode to socksAs a model or inspiration for your writing.

Be sure to describe the sneakers using bold language and detail. Here are a few things you might want to consider: how sneakers feel or how you thought would they feel up? How does it feel to touch them with your hands? How was it the first time you saw them? What emotions do you feel when you think about it? What could you compare them to in nature? When was the moment you knew these were the sneakers of your dreams?

You can share your ode with your classmates or in the comments section of this lesson.

Option 2: Design your own sneaker.

Design a sneaker that reflects your own identity, passions, interests or style. What colors, textures and symbols would he understand? What person, country or event could you dedicate it to?

You can use this model of Chicago School of Shoemaking and Leather Artsor draw your own. To share your design with the Learning Network community, write a description and share it in the comments section of this article. And for the full picture, you can describe the rest of the outfit you would wear with your pair of sneakers.

If you wish, you can submit your design to the Design Museum’s sneaker exhibit by registering. here.

Option 3: Share your thoughts on sneakers.

As you read the featured article, did you imagine yourself at the museum exhibit or were you thinking of the sneakers you were hoping to see there? Did you already know some of the sneakers shown? Do you have any ideas on whether sneakers should be considered fine art?

If you’re not a sneakerhead, do you have any thoughts on this obsession? Or do you have your own passions and collections?

If so, skip to our student opinion question, “Are you a sneakerhead?” to learn more about a sneakerhead’s hobby and share your thoughts on the role sneakers play in your life.

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