Theater professor Anne Basting has been named a 2016 MacArthur Fellow, making her the first University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee faculty member to earn the esteemed John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s highest honor and the sixth person to earn a fellowship while living in Wisconsin (the most recent was urban farmer Will Allen in 2008).
Basting, 51, was one of 23 new fellows announced by the foundation in September 2016, and each will receive $625,000 to pursue whatever projects they desire. The unrestricted fellowships, colloquially known as “genius“ grants, are awarded to people who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”
Basting’s focus at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts is on community-engaged performance, and she’s an expert on integrating arts into aging services and long-term care. She’s founder of the Creative Trust, an alliance that fosters lifelong learning through the arts, and which supports a Student Artists in Residence program that trains and embeds students with aging services organizations. [Editor’s Note: We profiled Basting and her work with these projects in our Summer 2014 issue of Wisconsin People & Ideas.]
Among Basting’s many other projects are TimeSlips Creative Storytelling, The Penelope Project, and the Islands of Milwaukee. These projects all exhibit the kind of creativity and community involvement to which Basting has devoted her professional career, and which ultimately drew the foundation’s attention.
“While our communities, our nation and our world face both historic and emerging challenges, these 23 extraordinary individuals give us ample reason for hope,” says MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch. “They are breaking new ground in areas of public concern, in the arts, and in the sciences, often in unexpected ways. Their creativity, dedication and impact inspire us all.”
Basting learned of the fellowship via phone a few weeks ago when Cecilia Conrad, managing director of the MacArthur Foundation, called and asked if Basting was in a private place where she could talk. Basting explained she was driving her car near Holy Hill.
“She said, ‘I think you need to pull over,’” Basting recalls. “She told me, and I just burst into tears, and said, ‘Thank you for making me pull over.’”
Basting sees the fellowship as an award shared by the many people she’s worked with through the years.
“All of my work is collaborative,” says Basting, “and I feel suddenly like I’m standing by myself, and it’s not where I’m comfortable. So, waves of gratitude go to all the people that have ever said yes to agreeing to do a project with me over the years, and, in Milwaukee, that’s a huge network now”
News of Basting’s honor spread quickly, and she’s been prominently featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, New York Times, and on American Theatre’s website. The MacArthur Foundation also has produced a video and brief history of her work that can be viewed on the MacArthur Foundation website.