The Brainy Bunch

Walter Hood, Emmanuel Pratt, Mel Chin take home MacArthur Foundation Genius Grants

Landscape artist and designer, Walter Hood, has been selected as one of the 2019 MacArthur Fellows. (Courtesy John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Yesterday, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced the 26 winners of its annual Fellowship program, commonly known as the “Genius” Grant. The “no-strings-attached” $625,000 grant is given to those who exhibit “exceptional originality, insight, and potential” in their creative disciplines. Unlike other fellowships, the recipients do not apply for the grant but are nominated and anonymously selected by a committee of experts from a range of fields. 

This year’s fellows include a selection of artists, urban designers, scientists, and musicians, to name a few. Among those selected include landscape and public artist, Walter Hood; urban designer, Emmanuel Pratt; and interdisciplinary artist Mel Chin. 

Walter Hood was awarded the grant for creating “ecologically sustainable urban spaces that resonate with and enrich the lives of current residents while honoring communal histories.” He received his MLA and M.Arch from the University of California, Berkeley, as well as an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is currently the creative director of Oakland-based Hood Design Studio, a social art and design practice he founded in 1992. 

Recent projects that illustrate Hood’s interest in the role of sculpture in public space include his plans for Nauck Town Square in Arlington County, Virginia which includes a towering sculpture that spells “Freed” made of replica slave badges. He is also designing the landscaping surrounding the new International African American Museum, and Hood Design has been shortlisted to reimagine the La Brea Tar Pits.

A man stands in a lush garden of sunflowers and greenery holding a wheel barrow filled with green vegetables.

Emmanuel Pratt is an urban designer, and cofounder, and executive director of the Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) in Chicago. (Courtesy John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Emmanuel Pratt is an urban designer, and cofounder and executive director of the Sweet Water Foundation (SWF). He was offered the award for his integration of “agriculture, education, and design in a resident-driven approach to community development” and “turning neglected urban neighborhoods into places of growth and vitality.” Pratt received a Master of Science in Architecture and Urban Design from Columbia University after studying architecture at Cornell for his undergraduate degree. 

SWF was featured in this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial with the project Re-Rooting + Redux which was inspired by the construction method Chicago’s worker cottages. The installation transforms the structure into a gallery space reflecting on the future of the city’s South Side. 

Older man stands on a ladder in a cluttered artist studio with a large metal sculpture sitting on a table.

Interdisciplinary artist Mel Chin stands on a ladder in his studio with one of his sculptures. (Courtesy John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Selected for “harnessing the power of art to raise awareness of social concerns,” artist Mel Chin’s work is often said to defy categorization. Whether it is a public installation, animated films, or sculptural objects, Chin’s work utilizes materiality and place as a way to engage diverse groups of people. Chin is the oldest of the recipients, at 67, and resides in Egypt Township in North Carolina. 

Speaking with The New York Times, Chin said, “I don’t want to use the word ‘responsibility’ but this felt like an acknowledgment that maybe after a life’s work, you just need to do more.” 

The full list of 2019 fellows is as follows:

Elizabeth Anderson, philosopher; Sujatha Baliga, attorney; Lynda Barry, cartoonist; Mel Chin, artist; Danielle Citron, legal scholar; Lisa Daugaard, criminal justice reformer; Annie Dorsen, theater artist; Andrea Dutton, geochemist; Jeffrey Gibson, visual artist; Mary Halvorson, guitarist; Saidiya Hartman, cultural historian; Walter Hood, landscape and public artist; Stacy Jupiter, marine scientist; Zachary Lippman, plant biologist; Valeria Luiselli, writer; Kelly Lytle Hernández, historian; Sarah Michelson, choreographer; Jeffrey Alan Miller, literary scholar; Jerry X. Mitrovica, geophysicist; Emmanuel Pratt, urban designer; Cameron Rowland, artist; Vanessa Ruta, neuroscientist; Joshua Tenenbaum, cognitive scientist; Jenny Tung, anthropologist; Ocean Vuong, writer; Emily Wilson, classicist.

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