Genius Awards

September 23, 2008 NY Times
25 Receive $500,000 ‘Genius’ Fellowships
By PATRICIA COHEN

A sculptor who transforms straws, paper clips and Scotch tape into dazzling forms; an urban farmer who delivers healthy food to poor city dwellers; and an astronomer who looks toward the edge of the universe are among the 25 recipients of the $500,000 “genius awards” to be announced on Tuesday by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Candidates in every conceivable field are eligible, though the largest cluster of awards this year went to scientists (13), with those in the arts (8) a close second. As always, there are a few idiosyncratic careers in the mix, including that of an engineer and architectural historian who studies and preserves ancient bridges and other structures.

The foundation’s president, Jonathan F. Fanton, said the description that best characterizes this year’s class of winners was “people working on the very edge of discovery and people at the edge of a new synthesis.”

The recipients, who must be citizens or residents of the United States, join 756 who have been named fellows since 1981. Each gets $100,000 a year for five years, with no strings attached. Calling the recipients is “the best hour of the year,” Mr. Fanton said

Most of the winners, who are singled out for their creativity and their potential for making important future contributions, are familiar primarily to experts in their own fields, although a few in the arts have reached larger audiences: for example, Alex Ross, 40, a music critic for The New Yorker and the author of a cultural history of 20th-century music, “The Rest Is Noise”; Tara Donovan, 38, who creates large installations out of everyday objects, as in “Haze,” a 2003 work in which she stacked more than two million clear plastic drinking straws against a 42-foot-long wall;

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