Take the advice on how to win one (after the jump) with a grain of salt. To date I am not a recipient.
From the Los Angeles Times:
One of the 23 winners of $500,000 from the MacArthur Foundation initially wouldn't answer the phone, thinking it was a robocall.
Mandolin player and composer Chris Thile learned the hard way that when you get a call from the 312 area code this time of year, you should probably answer the phone.First posted in September 2007.
Thile is among 23 recipients of this year's MacArthur Foundation "genius" grants, which are given in a secrecy-shrouded process. Winners have no idea they've been nominated for the $500,000 awards until they get the call, and nominators must remain anonymous.
Thile ignored the incessant phone calls from the foundation at first, thinking they were election-year robocalls. Then he received an ominous message: "Don't tell anyone about this call."
His tour manager searched for the number online and told him, "It appears to be from something called the MacArthur Foundation." It was a name Thile recognized.
"I think I must have turned white," he said. "I've never felt so internally warm. My heart was racing. All of a sudden, I felt very askew physically. I was trying to catch my breath.... I thought, 'Oh my God, did I win a MacArthur?'"
The grants, paid over five years, give recipients freedom to pursue a creative vision. Winners, who work in fields ranging from medicine and science to the arts and journalism, don't have to report how they spend the money.
Thile, who played with Nickel Creek and is now touring with Punch Brothers, said he might use the grant to fund a chamber music project for a bluegrass quintet....MORE
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
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.