Josh Kun wins prestigious MacArthur Foundation award
USC Professor Josh Kun has been named a 2016 MacArthur Fellow. Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Josh Kun wins prestigious MacArthur Foundation award

The ‘genius grant’ honors the American studies and ethnicity and communications professor, whose innovative work explores unexpected cross-cultural connections.
ByGretchen McCartney

Josh Kun, associate professor of communication and American studies and ethnicity, has been selected as a 2016 fellow of the MacArthur Foundation.

The prestigious fellowship, known informally as the “genius grant,” provides each recipient with a $625,000, “no strings attached” award over five years. Kun is one of 23 fellows selected this year by the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The program recognizes “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction,” the foundation said.

Cross-cultural exchange

The foundation lauded Kun, who also leads the Popular Music Project at USC’s Norman Lear Center, for his unique exploration of the ways arts and popular culture are conduits for cross-cultural exchange: “Kun is showing how communities that may have historically been seen as separate actually have much in common,” and his success in making the histories of cultural production relatable to a wide audience “is demonstrating the power of public humanities at its best.”

“Josh’s important cross-cultural scholarship matches USC’s commitment to Los Angeles, a global city with fascinating, deep roots,” USC Provost Michael Quick said. “Yet, he is a true cultural historian whose work transcends the city and its borders and shows us all the connections that we have to each other. USC is uniquely positioned for this type of research which represents an overall mission of the university — to have a global perspective in a world-class city.”

Kun said he hopes the MacArthur announcement will bring attention to USC’s cross-campus, interdisciplinary work around diversity, culture and social justice.

“It’s such an honor that the award recognizes the work I’ve been doing personally. But a large part of what I do is inspired by, and comes out of, a collaboration with students, scholars and activists. My hope is we can use the energy and excitement around this award to galvanize and mobilize the work that so many of us are doing on campus,” Kun said, who holds joint appointments at USC Dornsife and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Reaching into the community

Kun’s longtime emphasis has been on the public humanities. He focuses on transforming traditional scholarship into projects with a wide audience — across campus and across Los Angeles.

He has new work dedicated to Latin American music and the shaping of Los Angeles, as part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time. He also is preparing to launch a new project, in partnership with the San Francisco Museum of Art and the San Francisco Public Library, that explores the city’s music and gentrification.

Kun is the fourth USC faculty member to receive a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, joining Jacob Soll, professor of history and accounting; Elyn Saks, Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences; and Luis Alfaro of the USC School of Dramatic Arts.