Former Racer begins art and design scholarship

Story by Bailey Bohannan, Staff writer

Jimmy Wright announced he will be giving a portion of his estate to the Department of Art and Design to establish a scholarship for students with talent and potential in the future.

“Murray State University is one of three schools that will be receiving the proceeds from his estate,” said Christine Bernot, Interim Executive Director of Development in the Office of Development.

Although the amount of the scholarship and criteria for recipients have not been decided yet, Bernot said this will be a significant donation and Wright wanted to give back to the Art Institute of Chicago, Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Murray State for their contribution to his success as an artist.

Wright is a nationally recognized pastel artist who was first discovered by Clara Eagle, the chair of the Department of Art and Design at Murray State when Wright was in high school. Bernot said Wright was visiting campus when he was in high school when Eagle took notice of his talent and offered him financial aid to come to college and pursue a degree in the arts. If Eagle had not offered him financial aid, Bernot said he probably would never have been able to attend college.

“He’s a small town boy from a rural community, and he never even really thought college was an option for him,” Bernot said.

Bernot said Wright never graduated from Murray State. He attended for two years, but Wright feels Murray State contributed to his success by initially recognizing his talent. This will be the first gift Wright has given the university. 

The scholarship will not be established until a later date, but by announcing his gift now, Bernot said it shows great support for art and design at the higher education level.

“Funding for art students is particularly important because class and studio time make it challenging for students to work while pursuing an art degree,” said Staci Stone, Interim Dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.

Stone and Zbynek Smetana, chairman of the Department of Art and Design, are thankful for this scholarship that the department will receive in the future from Wright. Smetana said this scholarship will provide the department with more talent and help the students out as well.

“For some students, it may make the difference to be able to go to college who might not be able to go to college,” Smetana said. “It speaks extremely highly for the department, that [Wright] would be still remembering us so fondly.”

Stone said the department appreciates Wright’s generosity and support for helping art students pursue their dreams.

“Mr. Wright’s donation will make a real difference in the lives of our art students,” Stone said.

Bernot said this scholarship will not only encourage future students to pursue their aspirations, but it will help the university and Department of Art and Design. She said Wright’s individual journey with Murray State is a testament to that.

“I think [Wright’s story] shows the university community that higher education is possible and that career aspirations are only sometimes limited by financial resources or by opportunity,” Bernot said.