MacArthur & the Patronopolis

Thanks to Patronopolis member Geoff Gilbert for sharing an article about the founder of the “Genius Grants" with me. Turns out he was a bit of a jerk, it seems. But he believed that there was power and purpose in granting funds to individuals who showed promise in their fields, rather than institutions. (He didn’t want them to be called “genius grants," but it’s hard to control these things from the grave.)

I’ve included a potent snippet below, and you can read the full article here.

The Patronopolis is sort of like a small-scale, grassroots, community-based version of the MacArthur Fellowships.

Why rely on billionaires, when we can rely on each other?

MacArthur and Kirby would share the credit for making an expansive idea of no-strings grants a reality. As Rod MacArthur explained in interviews, he wanted to free “genius” from “the bureaucratic pettiness of academe.” These grants would go to individuals, not institutions. “Albert Einstein could not have written a grant application saying he was going to discover the theory of relativity,” he said.

The first 21 MacArthur fellowships were announced in June 1981. The winners would receive, among other things, “the gift of time,” wrote Denise Shekerjian in her 1990 book, “Uncommon Genius.”