The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is increasing from $500,000 to $625,000 the stipend it awards to individuals through its MacArthur Fellows Program, popularly known as the “genius grants,” the grant maker announced today.
The increase will apply to these year's fellows, who will be announced on September 25. The foundation will continue to award the stipends, given to creative individuals from a variety of fields, with no strings attached; recipients will still receive the money over a five-year period.
The change comes as the result of a new study of the fellows program; while most of the 300 former MacArthur fellows surveyed by the foundation felt the $500,000 stipend was adequate, the grant maker said in a letter to fellows that "other data sources suggest that an adjustment is needed."
The fellows who responded to the survey represent just over one-third of the 873 fellowships that have been awarded since the program began in 1981. MacArthur also sought feedback on the fellows program from more than 2,000 members of what it calls the "engaged public," more than 100 of the fellows' peers, and more than 60 MacArthur board members, employees, and people involved in nominating and selecting the fellows.
The findings, released today, indicate that 93 percent of fellows surveyed reported improved financial stability after receiving the award, and 88 percent said it gave them more opportunities to pursue creative endeavors.
In addition, 85 percent of fellows surveyed said receiving the award improved their motivation and sense of independence.
Challenges for Fellows
Still, the MacArthur windfall does present challenges for winners. Some fellows said they found the increased public attention brought about by the fellowships difficult to manage; they suggested the foundation do a better job of helping awardees prepare for the onslaught of publicity that inevitably follows the announcement of the grants.
To remedy that issue, the foundation announced, it is working on finding ways to help new fellows deal with the spotlight.
Past winners also reported a lack of opportunities for all years’ fellows to connect with one another or with the foundation, and in general, said they wished there were a deeper sense of community among the fellows. To provide such opportunities, the foundation is planning events and other ways to bring together MacArthur Fellows.