The most fascinating MacArthur 'Genius Grant' fellows who just won $US625,000 to save the world

MacArthur Genius Dawoud Bey 2017John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur FoundationPhotographer Dawoud Bey’s portraits entwine institutional spaces with the surrounding communities.

The MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ is an annual grant of $US625,000 given with no strings attached, paid over five years.

It’s not just for anyone — the MacArthur fellows are people the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation determines “have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”

The grant winners range from landscape architects reviving cities, to community leaders taking on poverty in urban communities, to conceptual artists revealing the extent of modern day surveillance.

Below, find nine of the most fascinating people and projects that won this year’s grants, and see the full list of recipients at the MacArthur Foundation website.

Jason De León shines a light on the effects of American immigration policy.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Jason De León.

Age: 40

City: Ann Arbor, Michigan

The MacArthur foundation says:

'Jason De León is an anthropologist whose multidisciplinary approach to the study of migration from Latin America to the United States is bringing to light the lives and deaths of clandestine migrants crossing the U.S. -- Mexico border into the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. He combines ethnographic analysis of migrant stories, forensic science, and archaeological research in his efforts to understand this process -- who makes the journey, the routes, the means of survival and manner of death -- and the human consequences of immigration policy.'

Read more about De Leon's work »

Kate Orf transforms cities into sustainable systems that work with the planet, not against it.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Kate Orff.

Age: 45

City: New York, New York

The MacArthur Foundation says:

'Kate Orff is a landscape architect envisioning new forms of public space that reveal and revive the hidden ecological systems underlying our built environments and encourage urban residents to become active stewards of their natural surroundings. Her research and design practice addresses the challenges posed by urbanisation and climate change (such as biodiversity loss and rising sea levels) through in-depth collaborations with ecologists, engineers, educators, artists, and community members that aim to make our urban habitats more adaptive and resilient.'

Read more about Orff's work »

Trevor Paglen examines what privacy means in a time when Big Brother is always watching.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Trevor Paglen.

Age: 43

City: Berlin, Germany

The MacArthur Foundation says:

'Trevor Paglen is a conceptual artist and geographer making the invisible operations of military and corporate power visible to everyday citizens. He draws on his training as a geographer and utilises the tools of image-making, coupled with painstaking review of public records and declassified documents, to explore infrastructures of warfare, surveillance, and social control that are generally hidden from the general public. The resulting images, sculptural works, and writings he produces examine the ways that human rights are threatened in an era of mass surveillance and data collection.'

Read more about Paglen's work »

Jesmyn Ward details the African American experience in the rural South.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Jesmyn Ward.

Age: 40

City: New Orleans, Louisiana

The MacArthur Foundation says:

'Jesmyn Ward is a fiction writer exploring the bonds of community and familial love among poor African Americans in the rural South. She is the author of three novels and a memoir, all set in the Gulf Coast region of her native Mississippi and centered on marginalized black communities. In prose that is simultaneously luminous and achingly honest, Ward captures moments of beauty, tenderness, and resilience against a bleak landscape of crushing poverty, racism, addiction, and incarceration.'

Read more about Ward's work »

Stefan Savage leads the charge for computer security to keep us all safe.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Stefan Savage.

Age: 48

City: LaJolla, California

The MacArthur Foundation says:

'Stefan Savage is a computer scientist using an interdisciplinary approach to address challenges to computer security and to counter cybercrime. In addition to identifying technological deficiencies, he contextualizes cybersecurity threats within much broader ecosystems, including underlying economic incentives and social structures contributing to vulnerabilities.

'With deep insights into internet security and a commitment to tackling problems of immediate, real-world importance, Savage is playing a key role in shaping cybersecurity debates among computer scientists while also informing efforts to fight ongoing security threats posed by a variety of actors.'

Read more about Savage's work »

Betsy Levy Paluck unravels discrimination, bullying, and ethnic conflict around the world.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Betsy Levy Paluck.

Age: 39

City: Princeton, New Jersey

The MacArthur Foundation says:

'Betsy Levy Paluck is a psychologist whose studies of social norms and networks are providing new insights into strategies for reducing patterns of discrimination, bullying, and ethnic conflict in contexts ranging from American high schools to post-conflict Rwanda. By translating theories of social psychology (which are usually developed and tested in laboratory-based experiments) into real-world interventions and randomised controlled field experiments, she has made significant progress in identifying levers for positively influencing individual and group behaviour.'

Read more about Paluck's work »

Dawoud Bey's entwines institutional spaces with the surrounding communities through photography.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Dawoud Bey.

Age: 63

City: Chicago, Illinois

The MacArthur Foundation says:

'Dawoud Bey is a photographer and educator whose portraits of people, many from marginalized communities, compel viewers to consider the reality of the subjects' own social presence and histories. Through his expansive approach to photography -- which includes deep engagement with his subjects and museum-based projects -- Bey is making institutional spaces more accessible to the communities in which they are situated.'

Read more about Bey's work »

Rami Nashashibi builds bridges across racial, religious, and socioeconomic divides.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Rami Nashashibi.

Age: 40

City: Chicago, Illinois

The MacArthur Foundation says:

'Rami Nashashibi is a community leader building bridges across racial, religious, and socioeconomic divides to confront the challenges of poverty and disinvestment in urban communities. His experience as a Palestinian-American Muslim, his training as a sociologist, and his skills as a community organiser inform his role as executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN). IMAN is headquartered on Chicago's South Side, in the ethnically and religiously diverse working-class neighbourhood of Marquette Park, which has struggled with high rates of foreclosure, unemployment, and gang violence over the past several decades. Supporting IMAN's initiatives and services for vulnerable South Side residents is a unique coalition of typically disparate constituencies -- most notably, African American Muslims and Muslim immigrant communities in both low-income urban areas and wealthier suburbs -- that Nashashibi has unified around a shared focus on social justice.'

Read more about Nashashibi's work »

Nikole Hannah-Jones chronicles the persistence of racial segregation in American society and education.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Age: 41

City: New York, New York

The MacArthur Foundation says:

'Nikole Hannah-Jones is an investigative journalist chronicling the demise of racial integration efforts and persistence of segregation in American society, particularly in education. She combines analyses of historical, academic, and policy research with moving personal narratives to bring into sharp relief a problem that many are unwilling to acknowledge still exists and its tragic consequences for African American individuals, families, and communities.'

Read more about Hannah-Jones' work »

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