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MacArthur Foundation reveals 'genius grants'

09-21-2011 16:40 BJT

CHICAGO - A Chicago skyscraper architect, a New York City children's choir founder and a North Carolina scientist who studies how to prevent sports-related concussions are among the latest 22 recipients of the MacArthur Foundation "genius grants".

The $500,000 fellowships for 2011 were announced on Tuesday by the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Recipients largely don't know they're in contention for the annual awards, and often learn they're winners with an out-of-the-blue phone call informing them they'll receive the money over the next five years.

"I was dumbfounded, I actually cried," said Francisco J. Nunez, 46, founder of the Young People's Chorus of New York City. Nunez finished what he called a "very strenuous" board meeting when he received a call from a phone number he didn't recognize.

"I get this call from a gentleman," Nunez said. "He tells me to tell whoever I'm with to leave and go into a private room. Next thing I know I have to sit down at my desk. I started shaking."

Recipients can spend the money however they like, but many like Nunez say the honor of the fellowship makes them focus on what they would accomplish in their fields if only they had the means. And now they do. His group's many choir programs have more than 1,000 young singers.

"I feel like I have an opportunity here and a challenge to figure out something really great," he said. The foundation cited him for "shaping the future of choral singing for children".

Even though they're referred to as the "genius grants", MacArthur Foundation President Robert Gallucci said the more attractive quality is creativity.

"We hope we're giving these people an opportunity they wouldn't otherwise have to pursue their area or interest and let that spirit that has driven them to be free to accomplish more in the future," Gallucci said. "We're aiming here at the future."

As in previous years, a wide variety of fields are represented on the list of recipients, including both arts and sciences. This year's list includes a former US poet laureate, an elder rights lawyer, an evolutionary geneticist, a jazz percussionist, a cellist and a developmental biologist.

The foundation relies on hundreds of anonymous nominators to offer names to be put in contention for the grants. Nominations only are accepted from the list of anonymous nominators.

Recipients often say they have no idea who nominated them. Names are then given to a selection committee of about a dozen anonymous members. They meet regularly to review nominations, narrow the list and then make final recommendations to the MacArthur Foundation's Board of Directors.

Including this year's recipients the MacArthur Foundation has awarded 850 genius grants since 1981.

Jeanne Gang, 47, was the architect of Chicago's 82-story Aqua Tower and her firm, Studio Gang, puts a focus on green building and sustainable design. MacArthur cited Gang's designs for challenging "the aesthetic and technical possibilities of the art form". Gang said she will put together a plan for the grant money and methodically follow it.

"I've always tried to maintain a very experimental side and research side of our practice," Gang said. "(The grant) will feed into our research, our prototyping, our creativity."

Editor:Zhang Rui |Source: China Daily

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