A director who has taken opera from the concert hall to the streets of Los Angeles and an organizer who helped put a human face on the plight of young undocumented immigrants are among this year's MacArthur fellows and recipients of the so-called "genius" grants. The Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation on Wednesday announced the 24 fellows, people who show "exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future." They each receive $625,000 over five years to spend any way they choose. The recipients work in a variety of fields, from computer science to theater, immunology, and photography (see the full list here). The AP reports previous winners have included Hamilton playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, and author-journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates.
There is no application process. Instead, an anonymous pool of nominators brings potential fellows to the foundation's attention. For opera director and producer Yuval Sharon the news that he had been selected was "an enormous shock and honor." When the foundation called, the 37-year-old assumed they were seeking a referral for someone else who'd been nominated. His next work, an adaptation of the radio program "War of the Worlds" will utilize decommissioned World War II sirens to broadcast the performance occurring inside the theater onto the streets. The sounds of performers stationed outdoors—and likely the traffic and other street noise—will then be transmitted back into the concert hall. As for what anthropologist Jason De León will do with the money, he quips to NPR, "Pay off my student loans."