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Young artist lends a hand to VH1’s Save the Music campaign

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

By Wendy Anderson, Studio M staff //

The guitar designed by Jimmy Stewart will be auctioned Nov. 4.

In a lot of ways,  Jimmy Stewart is just like any regular college student: The 20-year-old Nashville native has a typical course load at East Tennessee State University, where he studies graphic design. He works part-time and is a part of campus organizations.

At least one thing sets him apart, though;  recently, Stewart participated in VH1’s  nationally recognized campaign for “Save the Music,” a nonprofit organization that aims to give every child in the United States access to a musical instrument. 

I’m raising money for VH1 Save the Music Gala (NYC). Click to Donate: via @gofundme — jimmy stewart (@jamesberman16) September 1, 2017

For the organization’s 20th anniversary, it partnered with the Gibson Foundation and Gibson USA. This year’s campaign paired artists and musicians from around the world for a unique collaboration. A variety of artists were chosen to participate in the campaign, ranging from contemporary American artist Robert Longo to emerging artists like Stewart. They were sent blank Gibson guitars and tasked with putting artwork on it, which then was sent to a specific musician to sign. (Stewart was paired with Nashville country artist Chris Stapleton.) The guitars are being auctioned off, and proceeds go toward restoring music programs in public schools across the United States.

Stewart says his inspiration for the guitar comes from Stapleton’s music and lifestyle.

“I thought a lot about (Stapleton’s) first tour, when he just got started after he released “Traveler,” he said. “(He and his wife) took an excursion out West. Not only does the visual portray their Western trip because it’s a traditional Western skyline, but also Chris’s music is so raw. … That’s why the image is very stripped-down and natural and traditional.”

The process Stewart described is reminiscent of something most college students can relate to: procrastination.

“It sat in my room blank for almost a month,” he said. “When I finally started it, I finished it within 12 hours.”

ETSU professor Laken Bridges described what it’s like to witness one of her students participate in a national campaign.

“I’m excited for him,” she said. “He already has two important tools that are needed to be excel as a student and as an artist: He’s not afraid to work, (and) he’s also not afraid to fail.”

This campaign has special meaning for Stewart, who has grown up around music all of his life. His father is a musician, and he’s attending ETSU on a scholarship through its choral program.

“I was lucky enough to have (music) available to me in school, (but) there’s so many kids that don’t have that and won’t grow up knowing that it’s a great outlet,” he said. “I think it’s great that I can be a part of something that will give (music) to people, because it’s been such a big part of my life.”

Stewart has received quite a bit of advice throughout his life from family and friends — and those he admires, like Stapleton. 

“Chris, from a business perspective, has told me to find something that no one else is doing and just run with it,” he said. “Even if other people have done it, make it your own and make it good.”

A gala called “Turn It Up To 20” was held  Oct. 16 in New York City to auction off four of the guitars. As one of the participating visual artists, Stewart was invited to the event.

“There’s artists that have been established for decades … and then there’s me,” Stewart said of the gala. “I’m not even old enough to drink. … It’s just weird that I (went) as an amateur that hasn’t even finished their undergrad.”

The remaining guitars, including the one Stewart worked on, will be sold Nov. 4th at the “Rock N’ Roll Icons” auction.

“VH1 Save The Music plans to continue this project next year using a different medium,” said Linda Doyle, marketing manager for VH1 Save the Music.

For updates on this year’s campaign and future projects, follow VH1 on Twitter and Instagram at @vh1savethemusic.

Wendy Anderson is  from Nashville, Tennessee, and is currently a junior at Middle Tennessee State University studying multimedia journalism and fashion merchandising. 

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

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