MacArthur increases ‘genius grants’ to $625,000

CHICAGO — The MacArthur Foundation announced Tuesday that it is increasing the value of its annual “genius grants” to $625,000.

Previously, grants of $500,000 have been awarded in a secrecy-shrouded process to winners who work in fields including music, medicine, the arts and journalism. The foundation last increased the grant in 2000.

“We looked at many benchmarks and decided it was time to make an adjustment,” said Cecilia Conrad, vice president of the MacArthur Fellows Program, the formal name for the genius grants. The Chicago-based foundation wants the no-strings-attached five-year stipend to be enough to give winners “freedom and flexibility,” and it needed to respond to inflation, Conrad said.

MacArthur also announced most past recipients surveyed said the grants improved their financial stability and increased their opportunity for creativity. The winners thought the amount of the stipends was adequate.

But some asked for more help responding to the huge boost in visibility the grants brought them. The foundation plans to “explore ways to better support new Fellows as they cope with the sudden increase in public attention.”

Past winners — nearly 900 so far — have included poet Kay Ryan, TV producer David Simon, physician Peter Pronovost and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, who has become known for her recent work on the National Security Agency surveillance story.

One thing that won’t change is the mysterious selection process: Winners have no idea they’ve been nominated for the awards until they get the call, and nominators must remain anonymous.

Past recipients said in the survey that they would like more interaction with one another and the foundation. In a letter to past winners, Conrad said: “We will be experimenting with a variety of Fellows events to create these opportunities. Stay tuned.”

MacArthur also surveyed the public to find out how the genius grants are viewed. Ten percent said the program inspired them to think about their own contribution to society and their own creativity.

Conrad calls that the “one day, maybe they’ll find me” impact of the genius grants, an aspect she’s gratified the survey was able to document.

The next genius grants will be announced Sept. 25.

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Online:

MacArthur Foundation: http://www.macfound.org

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