The John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation every year gives anywhere between 20 to 30 innovative visionaries its prized $625,000 genius grant. This year, 23 unique and creative individuals received the award, with which they can do whatever they please. But how does someone like graphic artist Gene Luen Yang, one of the 2016 award winners, become a recipient of the esteemed genius award?
Although the award has been coined the “genius grant” since news media used the nickname in headlines back in 1981 after the first class of fellows –or winners – were announced, you don’t necessarily need to be an actual genius to receive the award. According to the foundation’s website, there are only three things fellows need to be considered for the MacArthur Grant: “Exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.”
The work spectrum of past and present fellows is pretty broad, too. Winners can be teachers, writers, scientist, artists, humanitarians or entrepreneurs. Professions and titles don’t determine the candidacy of MacArthur fellows, instead, the foundation focuses on the how recipients' work advances society in an insightful and inspiring way.
Recipients are suggested by a diverse group of nominators – influencers in their respective fields. There are no applications and nominators – who change every year – remain completely anonymous to fellows -- who also aren't aware of their nominations -- and evaluators. After a thorough review of a fellow’s work and nomination letters, an independent selection committee will choose the winners. Following the selection committee’s assessment of the candidates, the president and board of directors at the MacArthur Foundation announce the fellows every year in September.
Since the award's creation in 1981, 924 people have been named MacArthur Fellows and received the $625,000 reward (up from $500,000). Winners receive the payment in equal quarterly installments over five years.