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Mel Chin Named a New MacArthur Fellow

On September 25th 2019, the MacArthur Foundation announced the members of the Class of 2019 for the MacArthur Fellows Program. Artist, social activist, and MIT Mel King Community Fellow Alumni, Mel Chin, joins a class of 26 whose work demonstrates the power of creativity to reframe problems, create new knowledge, and better the world for everyone.

Chin’s work evades easy classification. It is analytical and poetic; conjoining cross-cultural aesthetics and complex ideas. Found in unlikely places, such as destroyed homes, toxic landfills, and prime-time television, his investigations explore our natural and social ecologies and how art can provoke greater social awareness and responsibility. Unconventional and politically engaged, his collaborative projects with communities challenge the idea of the solitary artist as the exclusive creative force.

The MacArthur Fellows Program, commonly but unofficially known as a " MacArthur Genius Grant," is intended to encourage the endeavors outstandingly talented persons to pursue their individual creative, intellectual, and professional passions. Nominations are evaluated by an independent Selection Committee composed of leaders in the arts, sciences, humanities professions, from both the for-profit and nonprofit communities. Nominees are reviewed for their past experiences; however, the fellowship is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, it is an investment in a person's originality, insight, and potential. The MacArthur Fellows Program is focused on enabling recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society.

During his time as a member of MIT Community Innovators Lab’s (CoLab) Mel King Community Fellows (MKCF), Chin collaborated on projects such as the Fundred Dollar Bill. The Fundred Dollar Bill is an open-source project that aims to give voice and representation to children facing the risk of poisoning by environmental exposure to lead, a potent neurotoxin. Artists are invited to create their own Fundred, their own interpretation of a hundred-dollar bill, making each an original work of art and a unique representation of individual’s aspirations for a future free of lead. Fundred unites scientists, health experts, planners, educators and as well as those directly impacted by lead contamination in their environment to collaboratively seek action and investment to prevent lead poisoning. The completed Fundred Dollar Bills will be presented to Congress for an even exchange of U.S. dollars to help the remediation of lead in the soil of New Orleans.

MIT CoLab’s Mel King Community Fellows (MKCF) Program embodies the legacy of Mel King, a still-active champion of cities and the communities they comprise. The program builds on a 40-year tradition of bridging practice-based knowledge and academic research. Fellows continue their community-based work in their respective sites and receive support from CoLab staff, students, and faculty as they undertake self-directed learning projects. Mel King Fellows are recognized leaders in communities across the country and have experience in a range of social justice pursuits.

“CoLab’s partnership with Mel Chin has been transformative for our work and that of our students. We have a deeper understanding of how aesthetic methods and inquiries can help us better understand the challenges planners and communities face in cities. Mel is the embodiment of CoLab’s mission to innovate at the margins,” said CoLab Executive Director, Dayna Cunningham. “We are so incredibly proud to see him receive this much-deserved honor, and look forward to continued partnership with him.”

Chin is the fourth MKCF alumni to be honored with as a member of the MacArthur Fellows Program. Additional MKCF alumni named MacArthur Fellows include, AiJen Poo (MKCF, Class of ‘13), Rick Lowe (MKCF, Class of ‘14) Reverend William Barber (MKCF, Class of ‘13).