Please Be Inspired by the Badass Women of the 2015 MacArthur Genius Grant


This year’s women recipients of the MacArthur Genius grant, which awards annual $625,000 fellowships to innovative people doing ill shit for the world, include a neuroscientist, a tap dancer, a historian, an off-Broadway set designer, a photographer and a poet. LET’S GET INSPIRED.

Mimi Lien, a 39-year-old set designer from New York (above), tells the Foundation that she got into her field because it was “exactly the way she wanted to talk about space, but it was fictional architecture.” She designed the set for Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 (which, incidentally, starred Hamilton’s Philippa Soo, colleague of fellow 2015 MacArthur Genius Lin-Manuel Miranda), described as “a full-scale Tsarist Russian salon that summoned up the decadence of early nineteenth-century Moscow and the chaotic emotional lives of the Russian elite.” She also once designed a set in a giant meadow.

One of the winners, Alex Truesdell, runs the Adaptive Design Association, a company creating custom furniture and other tools to help children with disabilities “participate actively in their homes, schools, and communities.” Before the grant, though, she told the Washington Post she was in constant fear that her company would go out of business: ““Until two weeks ago,” she said, “I’ve lived a constant terror that we wouldn’t make it,” proof positive of what a blessing the Grant can be.

Michelle Dorrance, a tap dancer and choreographer from New York, emphasizes the essential musical element of tap doubling as a rhythmic percussion, and in some pieces has choreographed dancers to kick off electronic loops with their steps. She runs her own studio, Dorrance dance, but before that was in STOMP. Who doesn’t love STOMP!

Latoya Ruby Frazier, the photographer and video artist from Chicago, focuses her work on Braddock, Pennsylvania, her hometown, and “deals with the intersection of the steel industry, environmental pollution, and the healthcare crisis.” She particularly captures the lives of the black working class within Braddock, the location of Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill, as sparked by her great-grandfather who worked in the factory, she says (above).

Marina Rustow, a historian at Princeton, studies a collection of documents called the Cairo Geniza to glean “what they can tell us about how the caliphal state ruled and how Jewish, Christian, and Muslim subjects related to it.” Okay, Marina! Get yours! (I have no idea what any of this means.)

Other excellent recipients include:

Heidi Williams, an economist studying “technological change in health care.”

Ellen Bryant Voigt, a Vermont-based poet;

Beth Stevens, a neuroscientist at Harvard;

And Nicole Eisenman, the painter, of New York.

To find out more about these women and also the dudes (including Ta-Nehisi Coates and Lin-Manuel Miranda), they’re catalogued here at the MacArthur Foundation. Congratulations to everyone!

Contact the author at [email protected].

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