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ASU spots geniuses who later win MacArthur Fellowships

woman working in studio

Lauren Redniss at work in her studio. Photo courtesy MacArthur Foundation

September 27, 2016

Arizona State University knows how to spot talent, as the latest round of “genius grants” helps prove.

Lauren Redniss and Josh Kun have each been selected as 2016 MacArthur Foundation fellows, an honor that comes with a $625,000 award that winners can spend however they like.

But before they were honored by MacArthur, they were recognized by ASU as having unique and valuable visions of the Southwest.

Redniss, a National Book Award finalist, was selected over the summer as one of two inaugural New Arizona fellows. The New Arizona fellowship is a joint venture between the Center for the Future of Arizona, ASU and New America, a D.C. based think tank that partners with ASU on issues including defense and cybersecurity.

“Our Center for the Future of Arizona is pleased, but not surprised, that Lauren has been selected as a MacArthur Fellow,” said Lattie F. Coor, the group’s chairman and CEO and former president of ASU, in a statement. “We are well aware of her many talents in her role as an inaugural New America/New Arizona Fellow in residence at our center. 

Kun, a professor at the University of Southern California, has been involved in a partnership between Celebracion Artistica de las Americas Alliance and ASU Art Museum, helping launch a performance art and conversation series called Crossfade LAB, which highlights Latino and Latina artists from Arizona and the Americas.

“Kun unearths and brings to life forgotten historical narratives through finely grained analyses of material and sonic manifestations of popular culture,” the MacArthur Foundation said in a statement announcing the award.

Josh Kun MacArthur Grant Winner

Josh Kun talks to the crowd at an ASU-CALA Alliance Crossfade LAB event in April 2016.

The genius grants, the foundation says, are investments in the future of particularly creative and driven people.

Redniss’ book “Radioactive,” told the story of Marie and Pierre Curie, who shared a Nobel Prize in 1903 for work on radio activity. It was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent work, “Thunder and Lightning,” focuses on how weather affects everything from small, daily decisions to global issues such as war and famine.  

Redniss integrates text, art and design into her work and the MacArthur Foundation said in a statement that her “unique approach to visual storytelling enriches the ways in which stories can be conveyed, experienced and understood.” 

She said her current project with the Center for the Future of Arizona will focus on environmental stewardship and the struggle of indigenous communities in the modern Southwest.

“I’m fortunate to be in such good company, and it’s inspiring to be around people doing such important work,” said Redniss of her Fellowship with New America and the Center on the Future of Arizona.

Meanwhile, Kun, a cultural historian, has explored how the arts and culture create opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue. Many of his books — topics including Jewish music and the culture of food and music in Los Angeles — have accompanying exhibitions. He has also done cultural studies on the U.S.- Mexico border.

“At a time when policed political borders remain a central force of our global climate, the need for artists who examine and transcend those borders is greater than ever before,” Kun said.

Casandra Hernandez Faham, the curator of CALA Initiatives, sees the value in this blended cultural expression and Kun’s vision for Crossfade LAB. Her next event with Kun as a moderator is scheduled for Oct. 3 at the Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix.

“Josh," she said, "is a powerful example of a public intellectual who creates new imagination, connects people and ideas in transformative ways, and animates urgent questions in public space.”

This year’s 23 MacArthur Fellowships were announced Sept. 21.

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