News in the Arts: 2015 MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant Recipients



2015 has proved to be a big year for theater; as the American Theater website highlights, three recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Grant,” are theatrical artists. Recipients are recognized as up-and-coming artists, and are granted a stipend of $625,000 over five years to assist their artistic endeavors. The first, Mimi Lien, is “a  set designer whose work includes the kinetic design for Soho Rep’s 2014 production of An Octoroon and the knick-knack-laden environment for Annie Baker’s John at Signature Theatre in 2015, has earned praise from the foundation for her “bold, immersive designs [that] shape and extend a dramatic text’s narrative and emotional dynamics.” The second, Basil Twist, is recognized for his “pioneering work in the field of puppetry (Symphonie Fantastique; La Bella Dormente nel Bosco) [which] extends to a number of a theatrical fields.” His most recent work is titled Sister’s Follies: Between Two Worlds and will run in the Abrons Arts Center throughout October. American Theater claims that the third recipient, Lin-Manuel Miranda, “is quickly on his way to household-name status with his Broadway smash hit Hamilton, and he was recently featured on the cover of this magazine. The foundation credits him for his expansion of the American musical idiom to include a wider range of styles and voices.”

Work in theater is not the only thing that these three artists have in common, however; as pointed out by Dylan Matthews in an article for Vox, these three artists, as well as the majority of the recipients for 2015, are already relatively well-established in their field. All three artists have already seen their work featured in well-known theaters in New York City. Matthews mentions Miranda in particular, claiming that his “musical Hamilton is generating more buzz than any Broadway production in years.” He contrasts the relative success of Miranda and other 2015 recipients to that of the recipients in 1981, the year the grant first started. He makes a distinction between these recipients, such as Cormac McCarthy, and more recent recipients by emphasizing the fact that, although McCarthy is a famous novelist today, in 1981, he had only written four novels, none of which made him the well-known author he is today.

So all of this begs the question: Has the MacArthur Foundation strayed too far from the original intention of the grant? Where does one draw the line between “emerging” and “established”? How much success can one achieve and still be recognized for his or her “potential”?

We would love to hear what readers think about this issue! Please comment and weigh in with your questions and opinions.

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