UWM theater professor receives prestigious MacArthur Foundation ‘genius’ grant

Anne Basting is one of 23 people to be named a 2016 MacArthur Foundation Fellow

Anne Bastings, 2016 MacArthur Fellow. Photo credit: MacArthur Foundation

Anne Basting, 51, a theater professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who uses storytelling and creative expression to help elderly people suffering from dementia, is one of 23 people across the country selected to receive a 2016 MacArthur Foundation grant.

Anne Bastings, 2016 MacArthur Fellow. Photo credit: MacArthur Foundation.
Anne Bastings, 2016 MacArthur Fellow. Photo credit: MacArthur Foundation.

MacArthur Foundation grants, commonly referred to as “genius” grants, are prestigious fellowships that pay recipients a stipend of $625,000 in quarterly installments over five years to pursue whatever creative, intellectual or professional endeavor they wish however they wish.

“They may use their fellowship to advance their expertise, engage in bold new work, or, if they wish, to change fields or alter the direction of their careers,” the MacArthur Foundation explains on its website. “Although nominees are reviewed for their achievements, the fellowship is not a lifetime achievement award, but rather an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential. Indeed, the purpose of the MacArthur Fellows Program is to enable recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society. The foundation does not require or expect specific products or reports from MacArthur Fellows and does not evaluate recipients’ creativity during the term of the fellowship. The MacArthur Fellowship is a ‘no strings attached’ award in support of people, not projects.”

Over nearly two decades Basting has developed and refined an improvisational storytelling method through her nonprofit, TimeSlips Creative Storytelling, according to a biography included on the MacArthur Foundation’s website. The TimeSlips method encourages older adults with cognitive impairment, such as dementia, to imagine stories and poems in response to certain cues or stimuli. She developed the method as an alternative way to view aging: as a process with challenges, but also possibilities.

“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,” Basting said in a statement released by UWM Thursday morning. “I’ve done national and international work, too, but the depth of collaboration and support from Milwaukee has been huge.”

Over the years she has conducted academic research and refined her method into a formal therapy protocol driven by her belief that creating new stories can be an enriching substitute for lost memories among seniors with cognitive impairment.

The method has given birth to several ambitious theater pieces she has developed with her elderly collaborators. They include a 2010 performance project called the Penelope Project developed from a series of writing, visual arts, music and movement exercises that imagine the life of Penelope, a character in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, as she waits for Odysseus to return; and “Islands of Milwaukee,” an ongoing media, visual arts and performance project that began in 2012 to addresses racial segregation in the city of Milwaukee.

The projects are meant to change perceptions about the artistic and creative capabilities of the elderly and reduce the isolation many seniors with cognitive impairment experience by engaging them with the community.

MacArthur Fellows are chosen from a pool of nominees put together by a changing pool of anonymous nominators that the MacArthur Foundation invites to participate. The nominations are then evaluated by a selection committee of leaders in arts, sciences, humanities, for-profit and non-profit communities

Between 20 and 30 Fellows are typically chosen by the foundation each year. Since 1981, 942 people have been selected as MacArthur Fellows.

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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