The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced that a recent review of its Fellows Program — popularly known as the "genius grants" — found that the program continues to increase the capacity of individual fellows to pursue creative ideas and projects in a variety of fields and disciplines. The foundation also announced that it will boost the stipend fellows receive over five years to $625,000.
To determine the impact of the program, the foundation conducted surveys of different types of constituents, including past fellows, the "engaged public," and intellectual leaders in a range of disciplines. The foundation also interviewed former nominators, selectors, and MacArthur staff and board members and audited its internal operations and procedures.
According to a summary of findings (7 pages, PDF), the Fellows Program successfully boosts the capacity of individual recipients to pursue creative ideas and projects and helps them progress toward their personal goals. A relatively small number of fellows (8 percent) reported a negative effect in terms of time spent on personal activities or leisure time spent with family, while others indicated a desire to see the foundation do more to help fellows prepare for and respond to the greater visibility that a "genius grant" invariably brings. The program also was found to lack opportunities for fellows to connect with other fellows or with the foundation. In addition, 10 percent of the engaged public reported that the program inspired them to think about their own contributions to society, while 10 percent stated that it inspired them to pursue their own creative activities.
While the foundation reaffirmed that it would continue to maintain the anonymity of the selection process, it pledged to explore ways to better support new fellows and experiment with a variety of fellows' events to create opportunities to build community among them.
"We are proud of the Fellows Program and its impact on the lives of not just those selected but people all over the world, who are inspired by the extraordinary creativity of diverse individuals of all ages, parts of the country, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and in every imaginable field of human endeavor," said Fellows Program vice president Cecilia Conrad. "We believe the program inspires people from all walks of life to think about how they can use their own skills and ideas to make the world a better place."