Not Taken for Granted Macarthur Foundation Bestows Honor and Cash to the Talented, Obscure

By Ap | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 17, 1997 | Go to article overview

Not Taken for Granted Macarthur Foundation Bestows Honor and Cash to the Talented, Obscure


Ap, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Playwright Lee Breuer was at a low point, so broke that his phone had been disconnected when he learned that he had won a $355,000 grant.

"It was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me in my life," said Breuer, 60, who got the news after returning a message left at his theater last week.

Breuer was one of 23 artists, scientists, educators and scholars named Monday as this year's winners of no-strings-attached fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He received the largest grant; the smallest was for $190,000. The Chicago-based foundation, whose founder, John MacArthur, made his fortune in insurance, has awarded more than $158 million to 502 fellows. Breuer said the money will help keep alive the Mabou Mines Theater in New York City, which he co-founded in 1970, as well as support him and his five children, ages 6 to 26. "This will be the first time I'll be out of debt in my entire life," said Breuer, who blends techniques from different cultures into several disciplines, including performance art, film, music, literature and opera. His most recent work, "Peter and Wendy," combines the story of Peter Pan with Scottish folk music and two forms of puppetry. Two winners were from Illinois: Kerry James Marshall, of Chicago, a painter, received $260,000. He is an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who does large-scale canvases of middle-class black life. "I don't see what's exceptional about what I do," he said. "When I come to the studio and look at my work, the only thing I see is what I need to do next." David Foster Wallace is author of the best-selling novel "Infinite Jest" and "The Broom of the System." Wallace, 35, an associate professor at Illinois State University in Normal, was awarded $230,000. The recipients are nominated by anonymous talent scouts and chosen on the basis of skill, creativity and dedication. Money from the fellowships is doled out over five years and can be spent as the recipients wish. Other winners Monday were: * Sister Kathleen A. Ross, a Catholic nun and president of Heritage College in Toppenish, Wash., who seeks to help the poor become self-sufficient. $335,000. * Kara Elizabeth Walker, 27, of Providence, R.I., an independent artist. $190,000. * Luis Alfaro, 35, Los Angeles, a performance artist, playwright and poet. $230,000. * Vija Celmins, 58, New York, an artist whose work ranges from still lifes of household items to the moon, ocean and desert. $345,000. …

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