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190 190 11 funding “mama”: the macarthur foundation and ellen stewart Bruce Kirle In 1986, the MacArthur Foundation honored Ellen Stewart, the “MaMa” of the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Company, with its “genius grant.” The fellowship is unusual in that it recognizes individuals rather than organizations; moreover, candidates are nominated anonymously and selected by a committee representing a wide variety of disciplines. The rationale for this selection process counters that of traditional funding mechanisms, which honor a specific proposal within a specified field. Conversely, the MacArthur Foundation intends to reward those whose work crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries. In 2006, when theater is increasingly multicultural and cross-disciplinary and when performance technologies tend to be increasingly complex and characterized by mixed media, the foundation’s rationale could well serve as a reference point for arts funding. In honoring Stewart, the foundation, in effect, authorized funds for a theatrical producer to continue her own work as theatrical angel, internationalizing American experimental theater by exporting her stable of writers, directors, and performers throughout the world and 191 funding “mama” challenging the parochialism and insularity of American theater by importing her global theatrical family to perform at La MaMa’s East Village complex in New York. If Stewart is a maverick, so was John D. MacArthur, who, along with his wife, Catherine, created the foundation that bears his name in 1970. Owner of the Chicago-based Bankers Life and Casualty Company and a real estate entrepreneur, MacArthur selected a board to run the foundation but established no guidelines about how the money would be disbursed. Reportedly, MacArthur told the first trustees, including son Roderick and attorney William T. Kirby, “I made the money; now you fellows will have to decide what to do with it.”1 John D. MacArthur. Courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. 192 bruce kirle The original motives for setting up the foundation are murky. According to grandson Rick, MacArthur may well have instructed Kirby to establish the foundation as a tax hedge. Indeed, the foundation sold Bankers Life and Casualty soon after MacArthur’s death to avoid conflictof -interest rules at the urging of Rod, an independent thinker who was often at odds with his father.2 Even with the significant influence of Rod and Kirby in setting up the fellowship program, however, the ghost of MacArthur seems to hover over the recipients. Indeed, one might say that the fellowship program is the legacy of a life-insurance salesman, with a self-proclaimed epitaph: “I’m not a builder, I’m a saviour. When someone gets caught in a wringer they call me to bail them out.”3 This is certainly the case for the 659 MacArthur Fellows from a variety of fields who received funding through the foundation between June 1981 and October 2003.4 It is particularly true for Ellen Stewart. Plagued with financial worries throughout her forty-four-year career, Stewart, like MacArthur, is a self-reliant iconoclast who used the fellowship funds to promote her vision of theater as a universal language and playwrights as play makers who collaborate with others in a spirit of cultural pluralism and ethnic diversity. She is a poster girl for the trust that the foundation places in its recipients to use the funds to expand the traditional boundaries of their field. One of the most successful salesmen in American history, John D. MacArthur was the youngest son of William Telfer MacArthur, a coal miner who heard his religious call as he watched his threshing machine go up in flames on his Pennsylvania farm. According to Ben Hecht, William “ordained himself as a minister on the spot, and [went] forth to recruit souls for the Lord.”5 William doted on the homeless and the destitute. Georgiana, his wife, would stretch one cabbage to fill twenty plates to accommodate the preacher’s disciples. Hecht reports that she made lemonade in a chamber pot; it was the only container big enough to quench the thirst of her husband’s stray parishioners.6 William’s attempts to instill Baptist values in his children apparently met with little success: “‘The old Pollywog roared at us from morning to night,’ claimed [Charles] MacArthur . ‘He was constantly uncovering some new streak of wickedness in us. He would line us up at night, all still hungry as wolves, beseech God in a firm voice to forgive us, uncover our backs and whale the hell out of us. He kept a strap soaked in vinegar...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780809387434
Related ISBN
9780809327478
MARC Record
OCLC
859155864
Pages
320
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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