Late Monday night, the MacArthur Foundation announced its 2015 class of fellows. Affectionately referred to as "genius grants," each of the 24 awardees will get $625,000 over the next five years to continue "pushing the boundaries of their fields, and improving our world in imaginative, unexpected ways."
Three of the grant winners this year hail from Chicago, which is the largest representation of the city in the awards since 2005. You probably haven't heard of many of this year's class members, much less the trio from Chicago. But that's part of the idea of the awards—to give creative and brilliant people the chance to break out and the financial freedom to continue to produce great work.
Chicago has a pretty rich history of MacArthur fellows, which recently includes Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble member Tarell McCraney and renowned architect Jeanne Gang. This year's grantees from Chicago are photographer and visual artist LaToya Ruby Frazier of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, computational biologist John Novembre of University of Chicago and president and CEO of the Instituto del Progreso Latino Juan Salgado.
Here's a look into what Chicago's trio of "geniuses" are all about.
LaToya Ruby Frazier
Frazier, 33, is the youngest fellow in this year's class. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Photography at SAIC. Her best-known work, The Notion of Family, is a series of black-and-white photographs from her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania, a once-booming steel town that has fallen into a dilapidated state. It's a resolute look at the collapse of the American dream, and the faces that have been lost or forgotten with such. The MacArthur grant ought to give her the freedom to continue to produce meaningful, harrowing work in the visual arts.
Novembre, 37, is a computational biologist at the University of Chicago, and his work is way more complicated than a common layman (such as this writer) can come close to understanding. The gist of his research: When DNA varies, how does that have consequences for life? His work has shown how the genetics of European nations is "strikingly geographic," which led to the development of methods that looks into the connection between a group's genome and disease. Simply put, this is cutting edge stuff, and the MacArthur fellowship will give him the leeway to continue making some pretty profound discoveries about the human condition.
Salgado, 46, is a major community leader on the Southwest Side. He's led the Instituto del Progresso Latino since 2001, which works with members of Chicago's low-income, Latino immigrant communities who don't speak English, and thus lack the skills needed for a degree. In 2010, he opened the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, a charter school dedicated to health sciences that offer counseling and support to students for the first two years beyond graduation. The grant will go a long way in putting Salgado's work on the map, and could help spread his efforts into more neighborhoods in Chicago and the country overall.