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Atlanta’s Inner-City Teens Need To See the High’s “Sneaker Culture”

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Put on your nicest pair of J’s, Chuck’s or Adidas and go see The High Museum of Art’s latest exhibition, “The Rise of Sneaker Culture.” The showcase features works from manufacturers including Nike, Converse and Adidas. Visitors will see sneakers from the collections of Run DMC member Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and DJ Bobbito Garcia, as well as Kanye West’s widely adored Yeezy Boosts.  

Photo by Jahleelah Rasheed/VOX

The exhibit is the perfect opportunity for young sneakerheads across the city to get a more in-depth understanding of the origins of this niche marker of urban culture. Furthermore, the featured subject matter is likely to appeal specifically to teens living in the inner city (where sneaker culture is especially prevalent) and prompt them to become involved with the High.

The Adult Perspective is Not Enough   

Unfortunately, Atlanta’s High Museum of Art is not always accessible to teens coming from marginalized communities, but three recent events (“Tiovivo: Whimsical Sculptures” by Jaime Hayon, “I See a Story: The Art of Eric Carle” and the current exhibition) at Atlanta’s premier art museum show the establishment’s concerted effort to attract younger audiences, even if it is to the chagrin of older patrons. Some adults at last week’s “The Rise of Sneaker Culture” press preview failed to see the importance of the exhibit. One art critic even sneered, “I have no idea how I’m going to turn a shoe exhibit into an art exhibit,” not realizing that as a subset of fashion, shoes (including sneakers) are an artistic expression.

In contrast, many Atlanta teens see the exhibit differently. Christian Harris, an 18-year old attending the University of Georgia in the fall, explained, “Shoes are what really give an outfit flavor. Sports play a huge role in influencing urban society. Many kids at my school look up to basketball players because they come from similar circumstances but still find success… I’m very interested to see why shoes are so big now and I look forward to the exhibit.”

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Art is always reflective of the times, and the wearable art currently on display at the High undoubtedly symbolized not only the times but a transformation in contemporary fashion, popular culture and American values.

The Exhibit Will Not Disappoint

For traditionalists, “Sneaker Culture” has no shortage of shoes produced through collaborations with basketball players. LeBron James and Michael Jordan have both inspired pieces in the collection. More interestingly, a pair of Nikes created in a partnership with James and inspired by “Family Guy” character Stewie Griffin are on display. The shoes are exceptionally rare, with only 24 pairs in existence.

Stewie Griffin Lebron
Photo by Jahleelah Rasheed/VOX

Pieces inspired by other athletes include a pair of Cey Adams designed athletic shoes inspired by Muhammad Ali and featuring a portrait of The Greatest, while on the other side of the room, there’s a pair of track shoes similar to the ones Jesse Owens wore at the 1936 Olympic Games.

Muhammad Ali
Photo by Jahleelah Rasheed/VOX


Aside from athletes, a variety of musical artists also partnered with manufacturers to create a few pieces. Shoes made with the help of De La Soul, Rihanna and Kid Cudi are included.

Photo by Jahleelah Rasheed/VOX

“The Rise of Sneaker Culture” is as likely to entertain as it is to inspire and enlighten. Observers will likely note the lack of aesthetic value in a pair of women’s so-called athletic shoes produced by Dominion Rubber Company in 1925, but the shoes also paint a vivid picture of just how unrealistic standards for women’s beauty were.

It is not often that someone uses the word “inspiring” to describe a pair of sneakers, but Generation X artist Jimm Lasser’s Obama Force One’s accomplishes just that with a carving of POTUS and the following musing from the designer: “Black man runs and a nation is behind him.”

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Obama Force Ones
Photo by Jahleelah Rasheed/VOX

“The Rise of Sneaker Culture” has something for everyone — whether you are a veteran shoe collector or a novice visiting just for kicks.

Click here for a full photo gallery of more images from the exhibit. 

“The Rise of Sneaker Culture” runs through August 14. The High Museum of Art is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays and from 12 noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. People aged 6-17 pay $12 for admission. Students pay $16.50. Learn more at

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