Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of MacArthur Foundation fellowship recipients, including jazz saxophonist Miguel Zenon, Wexner Prize-winning choreographers Bill T. Jones and Yvonne Ranier, visual artists Mark Bradford and Josiah McElheny, and many others.
There’s no argument that they’re supremely talented and at the tops in their respective fields, but career success is no guarantee of financial success. That’s the conclusion you’re likely to arrive at after reading “How MacArthur Geniuses Handle Their Money Windfalls” in the New York Times, which details what some prize-recipients have done with the no-strings attached gift that comes with the recognition—$625,000 over a five-year period. From paying off student loans to hiring childcare providers to investing in their own work (including purchases of pizza during long hours toiling in the lab), each have found unique uses for the windfall.
Jazz saxophonist Steve Coleman, who was recognized by the MacArthur Foundation in 2014, told the Times he’d learned the importance of budgeting from a music copyist in the 1980s and has lived frugally since. Coleman, who relocated to Allentown, Pennsylvania for its low cost of living, put the money toward an idea he’d been developing—“a program that brought musicians together to live in a city for three to four weeks to perform and be part of the community,” reports the paper.
“Mr. Coleman said he had to think hard about what to do with such a large amount of money, even though it is spread over five years and his money management was more akin to that of an accountant than a saxophonist. ‘The MacArthur people, they give you the money and they don’t do anything else,’ he said. ‘They let you make your own mistakes.’”
So far, so good for Coleman, says the Times. “His secret? He has continued to budget just as he has long done—a good practice for anyone who comes into a windfall.”