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If I Had A Half-Million Dollars...

Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - 12:15 PM

Mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile Mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile (Danny Clinch/courtesy of the artist)

Every year at this time, some twenty or so Americans get an unexpected phone call telling them that they have won the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, known to everyone (except the MacArthur Foundation itself) as the "Genius Award." But as long as we're giving the fellowship a nickname, we might as well be precise and call it the "Rich Genius Award" because the Fellowship consists of $500,000, paid over five years.  There are no strings attached, no requirements, no reports. Simply a phone call and then five annual checks with a lot of zeroes. 

The Genius Awards go to people in many different walks of life. Among the recipients this year are author Junot Diaz, stringed bow maker Benoît Rolland, and writer Dinaw Mengestu, as well as scientists and physicists, photographers, economists and neurosurgeons -- so almost anyone can wonder what they'd do with the money if they got that call one day.

Another of yesterday’s winners, mandolinist Chris Thile (known for his virtuosic playing with Nickel Creek, The Punch Brothers, and last year with Yo-Yo Ma) spoke to our news team while in a car going to look at an expensive mandolin he'd been wanting for a while and which he can now bloody well afford.

Some years ago, bassist Edgar Meyer won the award and when I asked the inevitable question "What are you gonna do with the money?" he said he was going to finish a home studio he'd been trying to build and buy a piano. That is the most concrete answer we've ever gotten to that question, which we ask virtually every year of at least one musician.

Now we aim that question closer to home. Joe Levy, editor of Billboard, tells us on tonight’s show that he'd write a book about the album Wowee Zowee by Pavement (a crown jewel of '90s indie rock) and pay the band to get back together and play the album front to back live.

I, having no clear indication of the kind of capital required to do this, and being slightly dazzled by the total 5-year amount, would probably try to start a record label or commission some new works. Although I could also see writing a book about Wowee Zowee and then spending the rest at the racetrack.

So what about you?  Do you have a dream project you'd work on if you got that call next year? Tell us in the comments section below, or reach out to us on Twitter   

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Comments [2]

Rafey from NJ

I would go for am MBA from NYU or Cornell and attend Industrial Automation Classes and donate the rest to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer hospital for treatment of poor cancer patients that can not afford it.

Oct. 02 2012 11:17 PM
DH Bennett from Chelsea

Last year I read an article about a MacArthur winner who came out of the side with very little to show for it. I think he was a contemporary stride piano player from Chicago. It seems as though the award comes with very little guidance. To me that's a problem. Personally, I think the award winner should do something lasting to improve the situation of their artistic community. As a music performer, I would create a studio, a venue, create a festival, or possibly a web publication. Something to add breadth to my experience, and uplift those around me.

Oct. 02 2012 03:59 PM

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