Steinberg: MacArthur hikes stipends, makes fruits of genius sweeter
August 27, 2013 12:52PM
Updated: August 28, 2013 10:43AM
A hundred thousand dollars a year is nice, and many would happily accept it for what they do, particularly performance artists, political activists and obscure poets. But 100 grand just doesn’t keep the wolf from the door the way it once did, and so the MacArthur Foundation is increasing the stipend it pays its fellows from $500,000 over five years, to $625,000.
Or, for those who are not geniuses, $125,000 a year, an increase of 25 percent.
The Chicago-based private non-profit organization, one of the largest in the world, is upping the ante as a way of “increasing the capacity of individual recipients to pursue creative ideas and projects,” an announcement said Tuesday. At the same time, the MacArthur Foundation released a study of its grant recipients (the foundation rightly resists the popular “genius grant” label that the media has slapped over the awards, which go to a range of social activists, philosophers, writers, artists, composers and performers whose work, while typically valuable, less frequently reaches the level of “genius.”)
The study presented a variety of information, some expected (in a poll of 300 grant recipients, 93 percent reported that being given $500,000 in a no-strings-attached present improved their financial stability). Some a little surprising, such as that 57 percent of the general public still hasn’t heard of the grants, which have been relentlessly publicized since the program was started in 1981. The MacArthur Foundation, which has always been more willing to talk about its own flaws than most organizations are, also noted that both the public and members of its board feel the secret fellowship grant process is too secret.
Up to now, the non-transparent process has awarded 873 fellowships, with the next crop being announced on Sept. 25. So there’s always hope. The world may not have noticed your excellence yet, but the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, as it is formally known, just very well might.
Well, probably not. But dreaming is free, and while the main purpose of the awards isn’t to spur wishfulness in impoverished artists, the MacArthur Foundation probably won’t begrudge anyone using their awards as soil to plant a few false hopes in.