Tuesday, September 25, 2007

How to become a MacArthur genius.

From Slate (Warning. Spoilers Ahead):

The MacArthur Foundation anointed 24 new geniuses Tuesday. They granted $500,000 fellowships to artists, engineers, and a host of other creative types. The foundation dispenses no-strings-attached awards every year to people who display "creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future." In 2000, David Plotz told aspiring geniuses the seven rules to live by to win the hearts and minds of the MacArthur Foundation. The article is reprinted below.

When Peter Hayes learned that he had won a $500,000 MacArthur genius grant last month, he was stunned: It's "like being hit by a Mack truck. … It's a little disorienting," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. Hayes shouldn't have been too disoriented. It would have been surprising if he hadn't collected a MacArthur. He helps North Korea develop windmills as an alternative to nuclear power. He takes underprivileged kids sailing in San Francisco Bay during his free time. And he lives in Berkeley, Calif., where you can't buy a latte without meeting a MacArthur-stamped brainiac.

Since 1981, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has awarded 588 "fellowships" worth nearly $200 million to Americans "who show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work."
(The foundation detests the word "genius" because it "because it connotes a singular characteristic of intellectual prowess.")

The fellowship is a no-strings-attached grant: Each 2000 winner will get $100,000 a year for five years. MacArthur calls the cash a gift of time, because it frees winners from financial constraints on their art, science, or activism. (The $4 billion foundation is the estate of John D. MacArthur, a skinflint who became the second-richest American by selling cut-rate insurance through the mail. His son Rod grabbed control of the trust after John's 1978 death and pushed the genius project.)...MORE

Warning: Spoilers

Rule No. 1: Live in New York or San Francisco.
Rule No. 2: Be a professor.
Rule No. 3: If you don't want to teach college, make art.
Rule No. 4: Do not, under any circumstances, work for the government or the private sector.
Rule No. 5: Upset conventional wisdom.
Rule No. 6: Be left wing.
Rule No. 7: Be slightly, but not dangerously, quirky.

John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Goes On Wild Endowment Binge

CHICAGO—The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation went on a wild endowment binge last weekend, recklessly giving away more than $170 million in grants and fellowships in a 48-hour span.

"We got pretty out of control there with the endowing," said foundation president Jonathon Fanton, icing down his check-writing hand while recovering Monday. "It started Friday afternoon, when [Vice President and Chief Financial Officer] Lyn [Hutton] suggested we give a grant to the Foundation for Urban Renewal for their tireless efforts to rebuild America's struggling inner cities.

Then, [Treasurer] Marc [Yanchura] said Save Our Cities was doing even better work, so we threw them on the pile, too. Things kind of snowballed from there, and by 4 a.m., we'd given $81 million in grants to 16 different groups. I think we even gave a few million to [rival philanthropic organization] Pew Charitable Trusts."