Skip to content

Oakland Museum of California Presents Exhibition Exploring the History, Cultural Significance, and Design Evolution of Longtime Fashion Staple — Sneakers

(OAKLAND, CA)—This winter, the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) will present Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture, the first museum exhibition in the US to explore the significance, complex history, and design evolution of sneakers. Originating at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, the touring exhibition is organized by the American Federation of Arts (AFA) and the Bata Shoe Museum, and is curated by Bata Shoe Museum Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack. OMCA Curator of Public Practice Evelyn Orantes is organizing the presentation in Oakland. A $4 charge will be included in addition to general admission pricing for this exhibition. 

Sneakers have long been a fashion staple and status symbol, worn by millions of people and transcending generations and socioeconomic status. Within the exhibition, visitors will view 140 iconic sneakers from the 19th century to the present, including rare examples from the archives of brand-name manufacturers such as Adidas, Nike, Puma, and Reebok, some of which are being publicly exhibited for the first time.

“Sneakers are more than just a shoe—they are an expression of personal identity and a reflection of pop culture, whether it’s the latest sports fashion or technology-driven creations,” says OMCA Curator of Public Practice Evelyn Orantes. “This exhibition offers a fascinating look at their evolution over the years, showcasing how social influences and technology impact design and creativity.”

Selections from renowned sneaker collectors—affectionately known as “sneakerheads”—including hip-hop legendary group Run DMC, sneaker guru Bobbito Garcia, and Dee Wells of Obsessive Sneaker Disorder, will also be on view. Film footage, photographs, sketches, and interactive media will showcase the history, technical advancements, and fashion trends that have played a role in the sneaker’s evolution.

“I am so pleased that the exhibition will be on view at the Oakland Museum of California. Sneakers provide a fascinating entry point into cultural change while simultaneously speaking to us on a very personal level. Each sneaker in this exhibition has a story to tell,” stated Bata Shoe Museum Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack, who also curated the exhibition.

Michelle Hargrave, curator at the American Federation of Arts, added: “It has been a pleasure to have partnered with the Oakland Museum of California on the first and only West Coast presentation of this important exhibition. Given the iconic shoes that were developed and popularized on the West Coast, such as the Nike Cortez and Vans Checkerboard Slip-Ons, and the current rich sneaker culture in California, we are delighted that OMCA audiences will have the opportunity to enjoy and add their own experience to this enlightening exploration of sneaker culture.”

Displayed in six sections, Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture’s first section examines the birth of the sneaker from the 1820s to the 1920s and how new technological advancements, primarily the vulcanization of rubber, were applied to the manufacture of a new type of comfortable and practical footwear.

The second section, which spans from the 1920s through the early 1970s, explores the creation of specialized sport shoes and the evolution of consumer culture such as the celebrity endorsement of basketball player and coach Chuck Taylor, whose name became synonymous with the Converse sneaker he endorsed.

The following section explores the emergence of fitness culture and how sneakers became emblems of conspicuous consumption and social status in the 1970s and 1980s. Examples include specialized sneakers like Reebok Freestyles (1982) and the Puma Suede. Section four features a complete presentation of Air Jordans, highlighting the role this coveted series of shoes has played in the rise of contemporary sneaker culture.

Synergies between hip-hop, basketball, and sneakers generated a popular footwear culture from the mid-1980s to present, bringing contemporary urban masculinity to the forefront. In section five, sneakers on display include high-end fashion designs by Prada and Louboutin, as well as highly coveted shoes, such as Nike Lebron James Stewie Griffins and Kanye West’s Yeezy Boost.

The final section highlights the innovative designs by designers such as Tinker Hatfield, the creator of some of the most important sneakers of all-time, including the first cross-trainer and the iconic Air Jordan III.

Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture will be on display in OMCA’s Great Hall December 22, 2016 – April 2, 2017. After its presentation in Oakland, the exhibition will travel to the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth.

Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture is organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Bata Shoe Museum. The exhibition is curated by Elizabeth Semmelhack, Senior Curator of the Bata Shoe Museum. The OMCA presentation is organized by Evelyn Orantes, OMCA Curator of Public Practice, and supported in part by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board and Macy’s.

The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) brings together collections of art, history, and natural science under one roof to tell the extraordinary stories of California and its people. OMCA’s groundbreaking exhibits tell the many stories that comprise California with many voices, often drawing on first-person accounts by people who have shaped California’s cultural heritage. Visitors are invited to actively participate in the Museum as they learn about the natural, artistic, and social forces that affect the state and investigate their own role in both its history and its future. With more than 1.9 million objects, OMCA is a leading cultural institution of the Bay Area and a resource for the research and understanding of California’s dynamic cultural and environmental heritage.

The American Federation of Arts is the leader in traveling exhibitions internationally. A nonprofit organization founded in 1909, the AFA is dedicated to enriching the public’s experience and understanding of the visual arts through organizing and touring art exhibitions for presentation in museums around the world, publishing exhibition catalogues featuring important scholarly research, and developing educational programs. For more information, visit

The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada, is an internationally acclaimed museum that boasts a collection of more than 13,000 artifacts spanning 4,500 years of history and actively supports a mandate to collect, research, exhibit and publish on the cultural, historical, and sociological value of footwear. For more information, visit

The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is at 1000 Oak Street, at 10th Street, in Oakland. Museum admission is $15.95 general; $10.95 seniors and students with valid ID, $6.95 youth ages 9 to 17, and free for Members and children 8 and under. There is a $4 charge in addition to general admission pricing for special exhibitions. OMCA offers onsite underground parking and is conveniently located one block from the Lake Merritt BART station, on the corner of 10th Street and Oak Street. The accessibility ramp is located at the 1000 Oak Street main entrance to the Museum.


* * *