There are times when students have ideas for projects that don’t fit into their budgets. For the past 23 years, the McKeown Special Project Award has provided support funds for travel, art materials, and even a billboard rental on Broadway in midtown Kansas City. In 2001, KCAI graduates Byron (‘60 Design) and Deanne McKeown (’60 Painting) met with President Kathleen Collins and Cary Esser, Chair of Ceramics, and brainstormed ideas about creative ways to help students at the school, outside the normal scholarship route. They believe the students would benefit from the experience of applying for grants and the McKeowns were onboard.

After the first awards were given out, Esser wrote the McKeowns and thanked them for their gift to the students. She quickly heard back that Byron did not consider the awards “gifts”, but “investments” in the students future. A few years later the program was expanded to include Sculpture students and in 2017, an endowment was established to keep the program funded.

Byron and Deanne met as freshmen on the steps of Vanderslice Hall and married between their junior and senior years. The marriage lasted more than 60 years, until Byron’s passing in May of 2023. Deanne recently visited their alma mater and reflected on the couple’s lasting relationship with each other, with art and with the school. After graduation, Deanne worked as a medical illustrator for KU Med, and Byron worked for Hallmark. They both had successful careers, and credited skills learned at KCAI as being most helpful along the way.

In 1979 the couple moved to Arizona, where Deanne had spent part of her childhood and loved the landscape. They settled in Sedona and eventually opened two galleries, Gifted Hands and Isadora. The success of the galleries gave the couple the chance to travel extensively and meet artists around the world. Through all this, Byron and Deanne continued to create in both 3D and 2D media. Deanne once said, “In looking back over a lifetime of working and exploring, I realize that I have never created art – art has been, and is now, creating me.”

Byron wrote a statement to include with the grant prospectus:

To effectively communicate, we need not only to learn other languages but also how to select the one most appropriate for a given situation. Whether it’s explaining our work to a client, sharing an idea with a stranger, teaching a class or, in this case, asking for a grant, it’s all about communicating.

This year’s recipients of McKeown Special Project Awards in Ceramics are Katya Sheremet (‘24 Ceramics), Ellie Naeger (’25 Ceramics), and Lizzie Ingram (’25 Ceramics). From Sculpture the recipients are Gaylin Nicholson (’26 Sculpture), Jayson Vigors (’24 Sculpture) and Dani Stine (’24 Sculpture).

Byron passed away on May 4, 2023, at the age of 89. Along with his wife Deanne, Byron’s investment in KCAI students has meant so much to two decades of McKeown Special Project recipients and the KCAI Ceramics and Sculpture departments in general, and his legacy will continue to do so. To become a part of his legacy, you can contribute to this endowed fund.