This exhibition and the tour are now closed.  For more information on the exhibition please visit www.riseofsneakerculture.org

The BSM is very excited to be partnering with the American Federation of Arts to present a tour of our exhibition, Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture.  This expanded version of the exhibition, which originated here at the BSM in 2013 and is curated by BSM Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack, is the first museum exhibition in North America to examine the sneaker’s complex and fascinating social history, from its origins in the mid-nineteenth century to its role in the present day as a status symbol of urban culture.

The origin of the sneaker dates back to the middle of the 19th century when it emerged from a confluence of technological advancements and profound cultural shifts. These first sneakers were called plimsoles but by 1873, the term sneaker had been coined. By the middle of the 20th century the pursuit of bodily perfection took on nationalistic overtones and the sneaker became firmly entrenched in the wardrobe of millions. The ‘Me Generation’ of the 1970s shifted the focus of fitness from cultivating group identity to the pursuit of individual success and high-end athletic footwear became signifiers of conspicuous consumption. It was the embrace of the basketball shoe in American urban centers, however, at the end of the century that would give rise to sneaker culture and transform the sneaker into the icon that it is today.

Out of the Box features sneakers from a range of significant private collectors, museum and archives, including AG, Converse Archives, Kosow Sneaker Museum, Nike Archives, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and Reebok Archives. Inspired by the importance of the exhibition, many shoes have been generously donated, while many others sneakers, which have rarely , if ever, been exhibited publicly, have been entrusted to the care of the American Federation of Arts for the extended tour.  Among them are an 1860’s spiked running shoe, an original 1917 Converse All Star/Non Skid, a pair of 1936 track shoes, the original Air Force 1 and early Adidas Superstars, as well as contemporary sneaker collaborations with prominent figures such as Damien Hirst, Jeremy Scott, Jeff Staple and Kayne West, among others.  Out of the Box also features sneakers and related prototype drawings from the archives of NIke, which span the career of legendary sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield, as well as a complete presentation of Air Jordans I-XX3 on loan from the Kosow Sneaker Museum which highlight the pivotal role this coveted series of sneakers has played in the rise of contemporary sneaker culture.

In conjunction with the tours, the AFA has partnered with Rizzoli Publications to present an extensive catalogue of the exhibition by curator Elizabeth Semmelhack, with an introduction by Bobbito Garcia.  The catalogue features 24 influential contributors including former Joran Brand Footwear Design Director D’Wayne Edwards, NBA champion Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Beastie Boys member Adam “Ad-Rock Horovitz,  U.S Open tennis champion Stan Smith, Run-DMC member Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, creative designer Sophia Chang, fashion designer Jeremy Scott, Details magazine Style Director Eugene Tong, footwear designer Christian Louboutin, founding creative director of Def Jam Records Cey Adams, and contemporary artist Tom Sachs. The book is available now in the Bata Shoe Museum Shop.

Brooklyn Museum – July 10-October 4, 2015
Toledo Museum of Art – December 3, 2015-February 28, 2016
High Museum of Art  – June 11-August 14, 2016
Speed Art Museum – September 10-November 27, 2016
Oakland Museum of California – December 22, 2016-April 2, 2017


The American Federation of Arts has launched an extensive new website, riseofsneakerculture.org,  to accompany the travelling exhibition.  Updated regularly with new content, the website will help tell the story of the sneaker’s complex and fascinating history.