Bringing art from the classroom to the community

By Sabrina Bates

News Producer

What began as a love for the arts as a young child has come full circle for a local artist with national accolades.

Jason Stout, a 1996 graduate of Westview High School, took his gift of painting to a level that some only dream about.

Stout reflects on his attitude about an apparent lack of arts when he was a child growing up in Weakley County. His talent laid dormant, reduced to a hobby that helped provide an escape from reality.

Upon high school graduation, Stout looked to hone his skills in the arts and pursued a higher education at Murray State University before completing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio. This terminal degree was the highest Stout could receive in Fine Arts, but it opened up the door to something that would be a calling for the local artist — to teach others to hone their skills.

“People respond to art. It transcends gaps. Art puts you in the middle of everything,” Stout said.

He was 27 years old when he taught his first class on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Martin. His chair, Doug Cook, suggested Stout take on an adjunct position with the university. As the Fine Arts department grew at UTM, Stout’s role as an educator expanded to full time.

With a new-found role in life as a role model for other young artists, Stout’s attitude about the lack of arts in his community changed from one of why isn’t there to what can I do about it.

While his professional accomplishments span several pages of showings and exhibits across the country over the last decade of his life, he seems to take the most pride in his role as an advisor to UT Martin’s League of Striving Artists.

“We are working to building arts awareness in the community. This helps open up a slate of students who work with the community by planting a seed today,” Stout shared.

When first approached about the faculty advisory role for LSA, Stout said he remembered telling the students the group was going to serve as an organization, not just a club. The group was going to take on a large service project annually. And in turn, the students would develop a skillset that will shatter stereotypes.

“Artists are kind of introverts. With this organization, the artists must be involved. By organizing, we wanted to do big things to make an impact on our community. This also allows the students to build a resume for later in life,” Stout explained.

Through the LSA, not all of the participants are art majors. It is a group of co-curricular students who organize and create projects that will leave a lasting impact on their communities. That impact typically comes in the form of activating a space that wasn’t active before, Stout added. From murals on the side of businesses in Weakley County to painting benches for the Paul Meek Library that mimic books, the LSA is reactivating spaces and leaving their marks on a community they call home — even if for a short period of time. Their artwork can be viewed on a regional level with murals at the Tennessee Safari Park in Alamo as well as downtown Bradford to help revitalize the city’s historic buildings.

Stout said another personal goal in his involvement with the organization is retention. Unofficially, 80-90 percent of LSA members stay in this community upon graduation. By partnering with local businesses, including those in Historic Downtown Martin, civic groups and even local public schools, outreach has become a tool that has led to long-term career paths for LSA alumni.

Recently, members of the LSA organization had the opportunity to create an illustrated children’s book that is distributed to UTM alumni for generations to come. When students aren’t working on their public service project, they are designing UTM Homecoming T-shirts and banners; providing student teaching for local public schools; and building resumes with their own creations.

The life of a role model doesn’t slow down for Stout, but he manages to capitalize on the summer months when student life on the UTM campus comes to a very slow trickle. One can now find Stout in his studio bringing his never-ceasing mental images to life on canvas for about six to eight hours a day.

His creations take the fast pace of life and culture and layers a visual language in a colorful, snippet approach designed to draw in its viewer. From love and war to cultural movements and societal woes, Stout’s pieces are perfect reflections of his energetic mindscapes.

“It’s like getting a mind massage,” a humble Stout shared. His colorfully-violent paintings are a playful take on serious issues that once combined, tell a story from the artist’s perspective.

In the last three years, Stout’s art has been a part of more than 50 shows across the nation. He earned a Best of Show award in 2016 for the Art of the South 2016 exhibition. In 2015-16, Stout was named a TAEA Higher Education Art Educator of the Year. He was also a 2017-18 recipient of the Bob and Wilma Smith Award for Outstanding Faculty Scholarship at UT Martin.

While he is spending his time in the studio preparing more than a dozen pieces of personal art for upcoming shows and collections, a group of people are working to bring one of his visions to life in downtown Martin with the placement of a soundscape sculpture. The sculpture is a brainchild of Stout and Clint Riley of Martin. The large-scale piece will not only serve as a piece of visual art, it is an interactive piece that allows visitors to create music with the sculpture.

Fundraising for the project began in 2012 and after a few proposed relocations, the soundscape has found its permanent home along the greenway trail in downtown Martin.

Stout’s career goals of planting seeds through the LSA, reactivating community spaces, and exposing viewers to today’s cultural climate through a bright and bold series of semi-abstract paintings are representative of his “love-to-work” attitude.

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