Recipients of this year’s MacArthur Foundation grants — often referred to as “genius grants” — were announced last month and include three North Carolina natives and residents whose names we’re proud to know. They deserve recognition for their accomplishments and — a requirement for a MacArthur grant — their potential.
Among them are Mel Chin, a visual artist and educator who “uses his practice to raise awareness of social and environmental concerns,” according to Artforum. Born in Houston to Chinese parents in 1951, he began making art at a young age. He received a bachelor’s degree from Peabody College in Nashville and later settled into the mountains north of Asheville. His work has been displayed nationally and internationally.
His bronze sculpture, “The Structure of Things Given and Held,” has been on permanent display at the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington since 2009. An animatronic sculpture, “Wake,” designed, engineered and fabricated in collaboration with students in UNC Asheville’s STEAM Studio, was unveiled in Times Square in 2018.
Another recipient is Jenny Tung, an evolutionary anthropologist and geneticist who teaches at Duke University. Her work concentrates on the long-term health consequences of social stress.
Tung earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Duke before becoming an assistant professor in 2012. Last year, she was named one of “Ten Scientists to Watch” by Science News. Her work has taken her on repeated trips to Kenya, where she has studied the wild baboons of Amboseli, analyzing their DNA and observing their social structure to see how they influence one another. She’s found evidence that low social status leads to disparities in health, which may have applications to human health.
A third recipient with North Carolina ties is internationally recognized landscape architect Walter Hood, a native of Charlotte and graduate of North Carolina A&T State University. He now lives in Oakland, Calif., and is a professor at the University of California, Berkley — he received his master’s degree there — as well as the head of his own design studio. He creates “urban spaces that resonate with and enrich the lives of current residents while also honoring communal histories,” according to the MacArthur Foundation.
In addition to imaginative works installed across the country, Hood has produced one of the bridge designs that the Creative Corridors Coalition hope will span the renovated Business 40. It’s a pedestrian strollway designed to connect downtown Winston-Salem with Old Salem, with large planting beds on either side of the walkway. It would be the first urban land bridge in North Carolina.
The MacArthur grants are awarded to “individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future,” according to the foundation. Recipients each receive $625,000 over five years, which they can use as they please. They come from a wide variety of disciplines including philosophy, literature, law and design as well as artistic and scientific disciplines. Grants can’t be applied for — they’re awarded by MacArthur staff, who consult experts in various fields.
We like it when those with connections to our state receive recognition. We like to think that the rich, open North Carolina culture has provided an environment that allows creativity and initiative to thrive. And we don’t mind basking a little in their reflected glory.
Congratulations to all of this year’s MacArthur Foundation grant recipients.