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MacArthur Geniuses: What do They do With their Money?

MacArthur Geniuses: What do They do With their Money?

By Andre Jones

Every year, The MacArthur Foundation issues its coveted MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, an award issued to 24 deserving individuals and institutions who have demonstrated their commitment to using their creative abilities in an effort to create a more peaceful and just world. Why is it so coveted? Well, the award comes with a hefty, no strings attached check for $625,000. So how do these MacArthur Fellows spend their money? Let’s take a look at a couple of past winners.

Thirty-eight year old dancer-choreographer, Kyle Abraham, was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship in 2013. On receiving the call from Cecilia Conrad, Vice-President of The MacArthur Fellowship, informing him of his award, Abraham told The New York Times “It was a shock. I was laughing about it; I was crying about it, it was so overwhelming.” Abraham, who had been subsisting off of food stamps just three years prior, used part of his award to pay off $180,000 in student loans, “I’ve been trying to figure out how to pay off my student loans to this day.” The money received from the award will also enable Abraham to continue to achieve his vision. “Getting an award like this lets me know I can continue to make work and pay my dancers and I can pay my rent.”

Evolutionary Biologist, Sarah Otto, who was named in the MacArthur Fellowship’s Class of 2011, did something entirely different with her grant – she donated $500,000 – a whopping 80% –  to philanthropic causes that she felt were more in need of the money than her. She told Paul Sullivan of The New York Times that the money wasn’t a factor in continuing her research, “The nature of what I do means that time is more precious than money for my research,” Otto explained.

Steve Coleman, Saxophonist, and 2014 MacArthur Fellowship recipient, used his money to fund a program he’d developed that would afford aspiring musicians the ability to live together in a city for three to four weeks and also perform in the community. As a consumer who created a life in which he consumed very little, Coleman had very little debt amassed and was able to devote the bulk of his money to his pet program, “I live in Allentown, and the reason I live here is economics,” he added. “I lived in New York for 13 years,” telling The New York Times that the reason he had to move was due to rising costs

As we can see, MacArthur fellows spend their money on a variety of things close to their heart. The common denominator is that their spending speaks directly to the passion that got them the money in the first place.

Among this year’s MacArthur Fellows is National Correspondent and Author, Ta-Nehisi Coates.

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