What is a MacArthur Grant?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2019
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A MacArthur grant is a grant offered to an individual with high creative potential. The grant comes with no restrictions or obligations, with the grant recipient being allowed to use the monies in the way she or he feels is most appropriate. One goal of the MacArthur grant is to provide people with some financial freedom to pursue their interests, as the money can be used as a living stipend by someone who wants time to research, explore, or engage in creative work. The money can also be used to invest in equipment, to travel, to fund initiatives, and for anything else the recipient might feel like doing.

MacArthur grants have been given out since 1981. The grants are offered to people who are American citizens or who are living in the United States, with the total of the grant being $500,000, given out in installments over a five year period. 20-40 people are selected each year for a MacArthur grant, and usually only find out about the grant when they receive a notifying phone call.

The organization which administers the MacArthur grant program is the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which claims that MacArthur grants come “out of the blue, no strings attached.” The selection process for nominees starts with a panel of anonymous nominators from a wide spectrum of fields who submit their recommendation to an anonymous board which reviews the candidates and selects the people it feels are most deserving.


The MacArthur grants are sometimes referred to as the “genius grants” by members of the public, although the MacArthur Foundation actually dislikes this term. While many of the people who receive grants may be considered geniuses according to various measures, the organization is not rewarding intelligence, but rather rewarding creativity and innovation. Fellowship recipients include scientists, writers, researchers, human rights activists, poets, historians, painters, historians, surgeons, economists, lawyers, musicians, choreographers, and performance artists from a wide variety of backgrounds.

While the past work of nominees is evaluated and considered by the committee, the focus is on the creative potential of a proposed grant recipient. A MacArthur grant can represent a tremendous opportunity in the right hands, and the organization looks for people who could be termed good creative investments. The freedom associated with the grants is also rather unique, as most such grants come with caveats and restrictions which limit the way in which the funds can be used.


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