ACE Awards Dailey

University of Illinois student Keenan Dailey looks at some of his artwork on display Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, at Cafeteria & Company in downtown Urbana. 40 North is set to honor Dailey with the 2019 Student ACE Award on Friday, Nov. 8.

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URBANA — In 21 years as a Champaign school district art teacher, Shannon Percoco has observed her fair share of fledgling talent.

But the work of one young multidisciplinary artist at the University of Illinois really caught her attention — and others’, too.

Percoco had seen UI student Keenan Dailey’s graphic artistry all over town. Some of his prints hang at Cafeteria & Company, and he has done artwork for the UI Black and Latino Male Summit, the local Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and Krannert’s 50th anniversary celebration.

“He has fantastic artwork,” she said of the 24-year-old Peoria native, who graduated from Richwoods High School with plans to be a mechanical engineer at the UI until his raw creative abilities led him to graphic design.

“I wanted something that had more freedom,” Dailey said of the transition.

His current major, however, doesn’t encompass his breadth of work.

Since that switch, he has recorded his own music, completed a visual album, finished a 3D animated music video for a new song by local band Elsinore and made short films, most recently “Greene,” which he wrote, directed and played a major part in.

That's part of what led Percoco to nominate Dailey for the Student ACE Award he’ll receive today from 40 North “for creating multifaceted, impressive and thought-provoking work that speaks to a variety of viewers on themes.”

"Greene," which tells the story of 28-year-old gallery owner Marcus Greene’s struggle to find peace with the fractured remnants of his life as he comes to term with his past, has been accepted into 10 film festivals so far.

“With zero budget, we pulled it off anyway,” Dailey said.

Dailey said he wanted to craft a psychological drama and focus on the use of tonality, specifically social and empathetic tones, touching on the etheric nature of certain emotions.

“For me, ‘Greene’ was very much a reflection of myself and very close to heart,” said Dailey, who described the creative process as being therapeutic and a journey of understanding himself. “The older you get, you start to articulate something (in your art). Forms start to take shape.”

His graphic artwork, “Calliope,” a powerful image of a black woman, won Chicago Literati magazine’s 2017 cover-design contest for its special issue on Afrofuturism — literary and cultural principles that combine science fiction, historic fiction, fantasy, Afrocentrism and magic realism while examining the dilemmas of black people and events of the past.

“You don’t see that many black female superheroes,” said Percoco, describing some of Dailey’s art portraying black women.

More than three years ago, Percoco and Katie Snyder launched the RESIST Art Event in C-U — not only to showcase the diversity of art and artists in the local community but also to bring the community together through artistic expression and monetarily support community initiatives like Courage Connection, DREAAM House and RACES.

Despite a busy schedule as a UI senior, Dailey submitted work for the first RESIST and has continued each year while working toward his master’s in graphic design.

“People were surrounding him the whole time. He was wildly popular,” Percoco said.

Dailey said he enjoys the face-to-face connections with admirers at the event, a nice change from sharing most of his work online.

“You get comments there, but this was in person,” he said.

In the second and third years of RESIST, Dailey brought prints of his work to display and sell — so he could have more money to donate, Percoco said.

RESIST asks artists to donate half of their proceeds to local nonprofits.

“That’s a big ask,” Percoco said. “It was pretty incredible that he took that initiative.”


Tracy Crane is a Danville-based reporter for The News-Gazette. Her email is

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