Theater of War Frontline NYC: Innovative program employs ancient Greek Tragedy to help medical workers deal with the personal and professional struggles of COVID

Frontline medical workers continue to confront unprecedented professional and personal challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. From their own inadequate access to personal protective equipment to facing impossible decisions about allocating limited lifesaving resources among their patients, clinicians have experienced feelings of betrayal, anger, and fear.

Now, by combining one of the pandemic’s newest forms of communication – the Zoom webinar – with the ancient art of Greek tragedy, an innovative project is reaching frontline medical workers who may be struggling in isolation, providing them the opportunity to name and communalize their experiences, connect with colleagues, and access available resources.

Theater of War for Frontline Medical Providers – developed by Theater of War Productions, the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, and the Johns Hopkins Program in Arts, Humanities & Health – presents dramatic readings by acclaimed actors of scenes from ancient Greek plays for audiences of frontline medical providers to open up powerful dialogue about difficult subjects. In a paper published by The Lancet on July 23, the project’s organizers write “we have found that presenting scenes from ancient tragedies about complex ethical situations for frontline medical providers generates an open, non-threatening space in which health personnel can begin to process, interrogate, share, and bear witness to experiences of loss, betrayal, grief, and other forms of moral suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

July and August performances have focused on the experiences of EMS workers, in partnership with the City’s local EMS union, and the experiences of frontline medical providers at Lincoln Medical Center, a public hospital in the Bronx that it part of the New York City Health + Hospitals network.

Theater of War Frontline NYC

As explained by Dr. Robert Glatter in an article Forbes, “In a nutshell, Theater of War for Frontline Medical Providers’ current approach during the pandemic is this: harness the power and messaging of Greek Tragedy, and use it as a medium to explore moral dilemmas that frontline care providers confront on a daily basis via Zoom Webinars, followed by a debrief that explores real-life issues which mirror the themes that are displayed during the actual production. After the performance, the actors are replaced by four panelists—a diverse group of front-line medical providers—who then respond to what they heard in the plays that melds with their own experiences of caring for patients during the pandemic.”

“This play was a complete translation of what I have been experiencing or witnessing. I haven’t necessarily been in the field, but I work behind the scenes seeing how decisions are made and how they’re implemented and watching my coworkers, my friends, pretty much my family come off their shifts knowing they have to go back home to their families and not knowing if they are going to be able to come back home, when’s the next time they’re going to be able to hug their kids. It’s a very helpless feeling.”

–Emergency Medical Technician, Bronx, NY

More than 900 people from 18 countries attended the EMS performances in July. In a post-performance survey, audience members shared that:

88%Viewing Theater of War Frontline offered new insights about their experience during COVID-19
88%Participating in Theater of War Frontline reduced their sense of isolation.
80%Viewing Theater of War Frontline made it more likely for them to use resources, if needed.
98%Would recommend Theater of War Frontline to a colleague or a friend.

Actors who have participated include Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Frankie Faison, Jesse Eisenberg, and David Zayas.

COVID-19: Our commitment

“This is a time of unprecedented need. Our most vulnerable populations are impacted by the pandemic more severely than others. It is imperative that philanthropic organizations take immediate action to meet this challenge. From its inception, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund has stepped up to support New Yorkers in times of adversity — from relief efforts after 9/11 to food needs after Superstorm Sandy. Now as we struggle to cope with the global pandemic of COVID-19, philanthropy is more important than ever. People are suffering. We all have to do what we can.”

Laurie M. Tisch, President, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund

A note from Laurie M. Tisch and Rick Luftglass

We are living through a crisis that will be remembered as one of the most traumatic in our time.

Philanthropy, by its nature, aspires to make a difference in people’s lives. But in this time of overwhelming need, we want to be especially conscious of how we can make the most impact for the people we serve with the resources we have.

At some point, we will be able to step back to gain some perspective and insights.

But now it’s imperative that we step forward.

The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund has immersed itself into efforts to support essential services and relief and to shore up the institutions and organizations that will make our City whole.

We have taken three tacks:

1. Coordinating with other funders to identify needs and gaps and to amplify collective efforts;

2. Bolstering the work of our ongoing grantees and partners so they don’t lose ground and can pivot to new ways of serving participants and other stakeholders;

3. Addressing emerging needs, with a particular focus on people and communities that – because of their role in the health system or the pre-existing disparities in their neighborhoods – are suffering a disproportionate impact.

To date, we have made grants totaling approximately $2,500,000.

● We were one of the first major funders to assist the NYC public hospital system’s frontline health workers, giving $500,000 to New York City’s Health + Hospitals (H+H) to provide food and essential supplies and services for staff in Intensive Care and Emergency Room units and to plan for mental health services to help employees who are traumatized by their experiences helping patients. Building upon a partnership with H+H launched in 2019 to expand the hospital system’s Arts in Medicine programs,  the new grant added a focus on using the arts to address frontline staff stress and burnout

● We made additional grants to organizations in the Illumination Fund’s Arts in Health initiative that utilize the arts as a resource to help address mental health stigma, trauma, and aging-related diseases to help them survive this time, as well as to build and/or employ technology to serve their communities during a time of physical isolation and health challenges.

● We were among the founders of the NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund, joining about 20 other foundations and individual donors to create a grants program for human service organizations that are providing essential services and to arts organizations that are anchors in our communities. Within one month, more than 500 donors of all sizes had joined, and to date the collaborative fund had made grants totaling $44 million to 276 organizations.

● We supported board-driven funds to help long-time partners the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and the Whitney Museum of Art to help them navigate the crisis, pay wages of hourly employees who have lost wages, and expand online resources for families who are stuck at home.

● We are supporting the Food and Society policy program at the Aspen Institute to bring together leading worker- and food-safety experts in New York City and around the country to assemble the latest and best protocols to keep food preparers and health-care workers safe when preparing and delivering meals. The resources will be shared nationally, as hundreds of restaurants, caterers, and meal programs are “feeding the frontlines”—giving the most vulnerable food-service workers urgently needed income and making meals to serve hospital and health-care workers without the time or access to restaurants to feed themselves.

● We contributed to the newly created Bronx Community Relief Effort, which includes a community-driven fund to support effective on-the-ground operations that are focused on meeting the essential needs of the Bronx community – particularly in the South Bronx, where poverty and profound health disparities have contributed toward disproportionate rates of COVID-19-related deaths, unemployment and food insecurity. We also joined the Robin Hood Relief Fund, which has been making grants to community organizations addressing food insecurity and providing essential services in high-poverty communities throughout the City.

Since its founding in 2007, the Illumination Fund has focused on disparities, whether it’s access to healthy food, access to the arts, education, or economic opportunity.  We believe that zip codes and circumstances of birth should not predetermine someone’s quality of life or their health. Of course, zip codes are simply a proxy for historic inequities based on income, race, ethnicity, and availability of resources and opportunity. Yet, zip codes are a vivid and compelling way to make disparities concrete. And that’s what we’re seeing in the starkest ways.

We plan to do much more as needs evolve. We believe that mental health and trauma will be next pandemic, as people begin to process what they have gone through and find paths forward. Our response to this coming wave of crisis will build upon the work of the Arts in Health initiative, which includes new and impactful ways to address mental health needs.

There is great uncertainty about the future, but we are resolved to using our philanthropic resources and our partnerships to move forward together.

And we will stay the course with the Illumination Fund’s mission: “to improve access and opportunity or all New Yorkers.”

Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund: COVID-19 Grants as of April 28, 2020

NYC Health + Hospitals
NYC Health + Hospitals COVID-19 Fund To provide meals, groceries and supplies for doctors, nurses and other health care workers in emergency rooms, intensive care units and COVID-19 overflow units in public hospitals
NYC Health + Hospitals Helping Healers Heal To support mental health and trauma services for frontline healthcare workers in NYC public hospitals serving COVID-19 patients
Collaborative Philanthropy Funds
NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund To provide emergency grants for nonprofit human services and arts/culture organizations to retain staff and continue to provide programs despite suffering financial losses
Artist Relief Fund To offer financial and informational resources to artists across the United States
Bronx Community Relief Effort To help Bronx residents experiencing food insecurity, unemployment and other crisis conditions in low-income and communities of color that are suffering from disproportionate rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths
Emergency Cash Assistance Program For Low-income New Yorkers To provide financial assistance for New Yorkers excluded from, or only partially covered by, federal stimulus benefits
Robin Hood Relief Fund To provide emergency support through food, housing, job security and financial assistance
Arts in Health Programs: Arts and Mental Health, Trauma and Aging-related Diseases
Arts & Minds Adaptation of museum-based art observation and engagement  programs for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias and their caregivers (English and Spanish)
CaringKind Information for caregivers and online training for museums and performing arts organizations to adapt art observation programs for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias
Community Access Adaptation of Changing Minds Young Filmmakers to enable young filmmakers to create and submit short films to combat mental health stigma and to provide resources to teachers and youth program leaders
Fountain House Gallery Adaptation and continuation of opportunities for artists living and working with serious mental illness to pursue their creative visions and to challenge the stigma that surrounds mental illness
Gibney Adaptation and continuation of program using dance as a resource in helping survivors of domestic and gender-based violence
Mark Morris/Dance for PD Adaptation and continuation of dance program for people with Parkinson’s disease
The Art Therapy Project Adaptation and continuation of group-based art therapy for people who have experienced severe trauma
The Creative Center at University Settlement Providing resources for artmaking by patients, survivors of cancer and other serious diseases, and seniors
Arts and Culture Institutions
Children’s Museum of Manhattan To continue to pay staff during closure
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts To continue to pay staff during closure
Whitney Museum of American Art To mitigate COVID-19 organizational losses
Basic Needs and Services
City Harvest To support organization providing emergency food through mobile markets and food pantries, including those providing kosher and halal food
Hunter College To provide financial assistance to help Hunter students pay for rent, food, child care, unexpected medical bills, and other essential expenses
Women in Need (WIN) To provide technology, childcare and education services for women and children in homeless shelters
Beyond New York City
Aspen Community Foundation To provide grants to organizations that are providing economic assistance, food access, and filling gaps in social services
Aspen Institute Food & Society Program To assess and integrate safety protocols and share resources for restaurants providing food donations to hospitals and employing restaurant workers
Sag Harbor Partnership & Sag Harbor Cinema Community Relief Fund  Food security and emergency relief on the East End of Long Island

Illumination Fund Earmarks New Donation to Help Hospital Staff Through the NYC Health + Hospitals COVID-19 Relief Fund

Donation builds on the Illumination Fund’s continuous support for healthcare workers at NYC Health + Hospitals

NYC Health + Hospitals seeks additional donations to provide equipment and support staff with urgent supplies as well as to temporarily hire new staff

Post COVID-19’s immediate crisis, funds will shift to mental health needs of frontline hospital workers suffering from PTSD and stress disorders

New York, NY, April 3, 2020—In response to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis in New York City, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund has increased its support to New York City Health + Hospitals, with an additional $500,000 to the newly formed COVID-19 Relief Fund, bringing the Illumination Fund’s support for New York’s public hospital system to more than $2 million.

Along with basic supplies, ventilators and masks, New York City needs philanthropic funds to support the purchase of meals, pre-packaged groceries, hotel rooms, laundry service, and scrubs as well as to bring in thousands of additional medical professionals to handle the surge in COVID-19 cases in the city. The Mayor has called on the federal government to supply more than 1,000 nurses, 3,000 respiratory therapists, and 150 doctors to support hospital staff across the City.

NYC Health + Hospitals is accepting monetary donations for the COVID-19 RELIEF FUND online through Network for Good.

“Our hospitals need an enormous amount of help right now just dealing with the public health crisis at hand,” said Laurie M. Tisch, President and Founder of the Illumination Fund. “We are proud to help them address urgent needs of the moment across all departments.  But frontline healthcare workers have been under terrible stress over many months, and once we begin to come out the other side of the crisis, they will need mental health support to process the trauma they have experienced during the epidemic. We are working with the public hospitals to stay one step ahead and ensure the support is there. To that end, half of our funds will go directly to support New York City Health + Hospitals’ Helping Healers Heal program, led by Dr. Eric Wei, MD, MBA.”

“Our healthcare professionals are extremely vulnerable right now,” said NYC Health + Hospitals Chief Quality Officer Dr. Eric Wei, MD, MBA. “Our staff is working long hours, often separated from their loved ones to minimize exposing their families from undue risk. We want to provide as many resources as possible, as quickly as possible so they can continue to provide the best care to patients. All of our lives may depend on them, and their lives may depend on us.”

To join the COVID-19 Relief Fund campaign, visit Every donation will go directly to hire and support healthcare workers during these unprecedented times. In an abundance of caution as COVID-19 spreads in our community, and with the increased global shortages of supplies, the healthcare system is not accepting material donations such as personal protective equipment (PPE) or surgical masks to ensure supplies meet medical grade standards.

About the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund

The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund is a New York City-based foundation that strives to improve access and opportunity for all New Yorkers and foster healthy and vibrant communities.  The Illumination Fund plays an active role in supporting innovative approaches across a range of issues – ensuring that the arts and arts education are accessible to all, increasing access to healthy food, promoting civic service, and promoting economic opportunity. In 2018, the Illumination Fund launched Arts in Health, a multi-year initiative to support organizations working on health issues that impact New York communities and that emphasize the arts as a tool for healing and building understanding. The new initiative’s areas of focus have included the unique role of the arts in addressing mental illness stigma, trauma, and aging-related diseases. Last year, the Illumination Fund supported the creation of NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine Program, expanding programs serving health care staff, patients, and communities in sites across the City. The grant also enabled NYC Health + Hospitals to launch new programs that use the arts as a resource to promote employee wellness and resilience and to combat compassion fatigue. For more information, visit or follow @LMTischFund on Twitter.

About NYC Health + Hospitals

NYC Health + Hospitals is the largest public health care system in the nation serving more than a million New Yorkers annually in more than 70 patient care locations across the city’s five boroughs. A robust network of outpatient, neighborhood-based primary and specialty care centers anchors care coordination with the system’s trauma centers, nursing homes, post-acute care centers, home care agency, and MetroPlus health plan—all supported by 11 essential hospitals. Its diverse workforce of more than 42,000 employees is uniquely focused on empowering New Yorkers, without exception, to live the healthiest life possible. For more information, visit and stay connected on Facebook at or Twitter at @NYCHealthSystem.

Foundations Unite to Support NYC Arts and Social Service Organizations: NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund

The New $75 Million Fund will Provide Grants and Loans to New York City-Based Social Services and Cultural Organizations to Support Them in the COVID-19 Pandemic

“The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund has stepped in to support New Yorkers in times of adversity — from relief efforts after 9/11 to food needs after Superstorm Sandy. We have arts grantees, health grantees — and organizations in the Illumination Fund’s Arts in Health initiative are at the intersection, utilizing the arts to address issues such as trauma, mental health and aging-related diseases. The need for services of all kinds will be greater than ever before, but nonprofits can’t meet such needs if they and their staffs aren’t also healthy.”

Laurie M. Tisch, President, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund

Bloomberg Philanthropies, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation, Joan Ganz Cooney & Holly Peterson Fund, Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund, The JPB Foundation, The Estée Lauder Companies Charitable Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The New York Community Trust, Jennifer and Jonathan Allan Soros, Jon Stryker and Slobodan Randjelović, Charles H. Revson Foundation, Robin Hood, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, UJA-Federation of New York, and Wells Fargo Foundation today announced the launch of the NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund to support New York City-based social services and arts and cultural organizations that have been affected by the current coronavirus public health crisis. The new $75 million fund will provide grants and interest-free loans to small and mid-size nonprofits to help them respond to emerging needs, cover losses associated with the disruption of their operations, and help them continue their critical work. The founding member foundations, companies, and individuals are building on their prior experience in local disaster recovery and funding, including 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy.

New York City residents rely on a network of local nonprofit organizations to provide a wide range of important services. Social service organizations provide food, home healthcare, housing, childcare, afterschool services, and more. Arts and cultural organizations provide programs throughout our neighborhoods that contribute significantly to the City’s economy and quality of life. Now, thousands of these vital community organizations across New York’s five boroughs are being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, risking the continuity of their daily operations and challenging the stability of the critical services they provide. While many organizations are continuing to respond to the immediate needs of impacted, vulnerable community members, too many are struggling due to lost revenue that will diminish their ability to pay rent, make payroll, and continue to fulfill their public service missions. Most of the organizations facing business interruption are unlikely to collect insurance that would be available for other types of disasters.

“The coronavirus pandemic threatens to cripple New York City’s nonprofit organizations and the vitally important services they provide. This joint initiative with so many incredible philanthropic partners will help ensure that many of our city’s nonprofits can withstand this crisis and continue to serve all New Yorkers,” said Patricia E. Harris, CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies. “In this crucial moment, thanks to Mike Bloomberg’s leadership, Bloomberg Philanthropies has also launched an effort to virtually convene U.S. local leaders to share knowledge and response strategies from experts at Johns Hopkins and Harvard. Additionally, we’ve begun an international effort with the WHO and Vital Strategies to stem the spread of coronavirus in low- and middle-income countries. In partnership with so many dedicated leaders and organizations on the front line, we can make a real difference and save lives.”

“We are grateful that once again the New York philanthropic community has come together to do its best in response to a catastrophe,” said Vartan Gregorian, President of Carnegie Corporation of New York. “The coronavirus pandemic is disruptive to our entire society, especially to our children, with the potential for lasting setbacks in their development. The Corporation is pleased to join peer institutions in assisting the City of New York with its many urgent needs, including services for the public school system, such as student meals and arts and cultural programs for 1.1 million children. In addition, our education grantees will have the flexibility needed to expand crucial services like online learning and teacher and parent resources to help communities nationwide.”

The NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund will be administered by the New York Community Trust and will provide grants and interest-free loans. Among social services groups, priority will be given to direct service providers, such as those supporting essential healthcare and food insecurity. In the arts and cultural sector, the Fund will provide support to small and mid-size organizations that work from and are attentive to their communities.

“We at the Mellon Foundation recognize the arts and humanities’ unique power to cultivate hope in the midst of challenges and uncertainty,” noted Elizabeth Alexander, President of the Mellon Foundation, whose commitment will go to arts support. “As artists and cultural institutions adjust to new fiscal realities, we call on funders, businesses, and individuals to join us in supporting the arts and the strength, inspiration, and perspective they bring—in New York City and around the world.”

“The Ford Foundation believes we must respond immediately to the human services needs of  vulnerable New Yorkers and also support the arts and culture infrastructure across the five boroughs,” said Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation.

“This is an unprecedented situation, but the philanthropic community has had experience joining together to respond,” said Lorie Slutsky, President of The New York Community Trust. “The NYC Covid-19 Response & Impact Fund will provide critical funding to shore up the safety net provided by nonprofits across the city as they struggle to keep up with the increased demand for their services. We hope everyone who is passionate about our city and its people will join us.”

Needs to be considered

Recognizing best practice from past experience working through crises, this initiative will provide grants and no-interest loans for needs including:

● Unrestricted, flexible funding to support new and emergency needs and meet community demands, particularly for service offerings outside normal operations required to respond to social distancing, isolation and quarantine.

● Technology to support remote work and services – laptops and remote calling capacity (ie. Zoom) for staff, securing staffing and training to fulfill their mission.

●  Temporary staff support to cover for shortages caused by employees who are ill, may have to quarantine, or stay home to care for family members or children during school closures.

●   Equipment and supplies such as masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, and cleaning supplies.

●  Additional cleaning services to augment in-house operations.

●  Support to aid the loss of operational revenue from facility closings, cancelled programs, events, etc.


To be eligible, an organization must meet the following criteria:

●  501(c)3 nonprofit organization

●  Based in New York City

●  Recipient of New York City and/or New York State government funding

●  Annual operating budget of up to $20M (excluding government contracts)

●  Track record of robust programming and services for New York residents

An advisory committee of leaders in public health, community development, and the arts will help guide the efforts of the new Fund. The New York Community Trust will continue to solicit donations from foundations, corporate partners, and individuals committed to the health and wellbeing of New York City.  The donors to the Fund are committed to an expedited process for decisions and payment of funds to recipient organizations.

The New York Community Trust is New York’s community foundation. It brings together individuals, families, foundations, and businesses to support nonprofits that make a difference. Since 1924, The Trust has been and continues to be a critical part of New York’s philanthropic response. The Trust co-created the September 11th Fund after the attack on the World Trade Center and has worked on issues affecting New Yorkers for decades.

Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF), a nonprofit lender and consultant with 40 years of local and national experience, will administer NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund loans. NFF will offer implementation support and additional resources to organizations receiving loans through this initiative.

Interested organizations can get more information and apply here.

Hunter Announces Winners of 9th Annual Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize

Jennifer J. Raab, Hunter College President, and Laurie M. Tisch, Founder and President of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, have announced that Families for Safe Streets and Rebecca Telzak of Make the Road New York are the recipients of the ninth annual Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize. These prestigious awards honor both individuals and nonprofit organizations in the New York metropolitan area for distinguished accomplishment in urban public health. Families for Safe Streets advocates for life-saving changes to prevent traffic violence and provides support to those who have been impacted by crashes; Rebecca Telzak is Director of Health Programs at Make the Road New York and a leader in expanding health access for immigrant New Yorkers.

The recipients were honored at a ceremony and reception on Tuesday, February 4 at The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College.

President Raab commented: “We are incredibly proud and excited to honor these urban health heroes. They truly exemplify the Tisch Family’s mission by making a difference within their communities, and they will all benefit enormously from these generous $10,000 prizes. Our thanks again and always go to Laurie Tisch for her innovative spirit and extraordinary generosity—with a special debt of gratitude and affection for Laurie’s mother, the late Joan Tisch, an activist and philanthropist who made healthy living for all New Yorkers both a priority and a passion.”

Ms. Tisch, president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, sponsor of the prize added: “It is a great pleasure to confer these awards to Families for Safe Streets and to Rebecca Telzak. Families for Safe Streets has had an extraordinary impact on increasing safety for pedestrians and drivers in New York, while Rebecca Telzak, in leading the health initiatives at Make the Road New York, provides vital services and mobilizes immigrant communities to advocate for health as a social justice issue.”

Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, stated: “Public health in New York City depends on active and innovative input from community partners to local government, and so on behalf of the de Blasio administration, I am pleased to congratulate this year’s recipients of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize. Families for Safe Streets and Rebecca Telzak of Make the Road New York inspire us all with their efforts to advance our shared priorities of safe streets and access to health care for immigrants. Having witnessed Joan’s tireless dedication to those in need as a young doctor on the frontlines of the early HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City, I am delighted to see these honorees continue her powerful legacy to uplift New Yorkers across every borough.”

Amy Cohen, Co-Founder of Families for Safe Streets, said on behalf of the organization: “We are so honored to receive The Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize. As all of us at Families for Safe Streets know all too well, traffic violence is a silent killer — and is not yet widely recognized as the preventable public health crisis that it is. Every two hours someone is killed or seriously injured in a traffic crash in New York City. One hundred Americans are killed every single day and millions suffer life-altering injuries. These are not accidents. So it is particularly moving to us that Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute is recognizing our efforts and drawing attention to this preventable epidemic.”

Rebecca Telzak, Director of Health Programs at Make the Road New York, commented: “I am honored to receive the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize. This award is a testament to the work and accomplishments of Make the Road New York’s health team over the years to improve the health of immigrant and working class communities in New York. Thank you to everyone who made this award possible and to Make the Road New York and our members for providing the support, perseverance and creativity to move our work forward.”

The Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize honors not-for-profit organizations and individuals for distinguished accomplishment in the field of urban public health. Made possible by support from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, the Prize is part of the Joan H. Tisch Legacy Project, which is based at Hunter College, and is a tribute to Joan H. Tisch in recognition of her humanitarian activism in health care and social services in New York City.

The jury will open nominations for the 10th annual prize in the spring. Future nominees’ work should focus on improving urban public health in areas such as: reducing health disparities; environmental health; obesity/diabetes/nutrition; chronic disease prevention and management; HIV/AIDS; health problems associated with poverty; healthy aging; mental health; substance abuse and addiction; public health policy and advocacy; using the arts to improve individual and community health; and widening access to quality care.

About the Honorees:

Families for Safe Streets (FSS), Organizational Honoree, confronts the epidemic of traffic violence by advocating for life-saving changes and providing support to those impacted by crashes. Comprised of individuals who have been injured or lost loved ones, FSS was founded in partnership with Transportation Alternatives in 2014 in New York City and has grown into a national movement with chapters across the country dedicated to ending preventable traffic crashes.

FSS members transform their grief by telling personal stories of trauma and loss to raise awareness and bring about policy and legislative change. Through hard-fought campaigns, FSS has lowered the speed limit and brought speed safety cameras to nearly every school district in New York City. Their support services include monthly support communities, peer-mentoring, logistical assistance and a detailed resource guide.

Rebecca Telzak, Individual Honoree,is a leader in expanding health access for immigrant New Yorkers. As Director of Health Programs at Make the Road New York (MRNY), she built its health department into a 25+-person operation that serves over 8,000 community members a year and operates throughout the boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, as well as Westchester and Long Island. She has advised government agencies on the creation of public programs to serve immigrants. Under her leadership, MRNY services have expanded to include health insurance enrollment, health navigation services, food stamp enrollment, community health worker training and home visiting services, two food pantries, and TGNCIQ health services.

Prior to working at MRNY, Ms. Telzak received a Fulbright scholarship to Argentina and lived in Nicaragua for a year while working at a women’s sewing cooperative. She helped found a workers center in Michigan, where she tackled immigrant rights issues. She has a Bachelor’s Degree from the Residential College at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Social Science. She received her Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Baruch College.

Selection Committee for the 9th annual Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize:

Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, (Co-Chair) Senior Advisor to President of Hunter College and the Former NYC Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services; Harold Holzer, (Co-Chair) Jonathan F. Fanton Director, Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College; Carol Boas, member of the University of Pennsylvania Nursing School Board of Overseers; Elizabeth Cohn, Rudin Professor of Nursing and Interim Associate Dean for Research at Hunter Bellevue School of Nursing; Michael Dean, M.D., Member of the Hunter College Foundation Board of Trustees; Joan Grabe, Chair, Hunter College Foundation Board of Trustees and Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing Advisory Board; Angela Haddad, Senior Associate Dean for Student Success at Hunter College; David Himmelstein, M.D., Professor, Hunter College School of Urban Health; Sue Kaplan, Research Associate Professor, Department of Population Health, New York University School of Medicine; Rufina Lee, Assistant Professor, Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College; H. Carl McCall, the Hunter College Roosevelt House Leader-in-Residence, former New York State Comptroller and State Senator; Barbara Salmanson, President, Jewish Child Care Association; and Susan Steinhardt, member of the Roosevelt House Advisory Board.

Illumination Fund Rolls Out Arts in Health Initiative by Convening 2018 Grantees to Support Exchange and Collaboration

In addition to making grants, in the first year of the Arts in Health initiative the Illumination Fund convened its grantee partners, health experts, New York City arts leaders, foundations, philanthropists and community partners to share ideas and demonstrate impact.  Each event focused on a distinct theme and showcased three of LMTIF’s 2018 grantees.

“Throughout our 10-year history, the Illumination Fund has been a proponent for access to the arts for all New Yorkers,” said Laurie M. Tisch, president and founder.  “The arts play a unique role in developing minds, enriching lives, strengthening communities and contributing to a vibrant culture. Creative expression can be a tool to help individuals and communities by aiding with coping and recovery, building understanding, promoting wellness and resilience, and reducing stigma so the barriers to care are reduced. But why should someone’s zip code determine the access they have to care? Why should the arts be available only to those with financial means? We at the Illumination Fund believe that the arts benefit everyone, and the organizations we support are those that are working to provide more access to people who otherwise would not have it.”

Utilizing the Arts to Address the Stigma of Mental Illness

The first gathering in the foundation’s Arts in Health initiative was held April 24th, 2018 at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House, in partnership with the Aspen Institute and Hunter College.  The gathering examined ways that the arts are addressing mental health stigma. The event featured leaders of three New York-based organizations and agencies working in the field: Community Access, Fountain House and the NYC Mural Arts Project at the Department of Health.

New York City’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray, provided welcome remarks, sharing her own commitment to fighting stigma and increasing support for New Yorkers with mental illness.

Introductory remarks were provided by Patrick Corrigan, author, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and a foremost expert in mental health stigma who has authored or edited more than 400 peer-reviewed articles and 15 books on mental health.

“Many people with serious mental illness are challenged doubly,” says Dr. Corrigan. “On one hand, they struggle with the symptoms and disabilities that result from the disease. On the other, they are challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental illness. As a result, people with mental illness are robbed of the opportunities that define a quality life: good jobs, safe housing, satisfactory health care, and affiliation with a diverse group of people.”

According to Corrigan, “The stigma of mental illness is first and foremost a social justice issue. Although stigmatizing attitudes are not limited to mental illness, the public seems to disapprove of persons with psychiatric disabilities significantly more than persons with related conditions such as physical illness. Severe mental illness has been likened to drug addiction, prostitution, and criminality.”

Corrigan’s research has identified several key ingredients to effective anti-stigma initiatives, including face-to-face contact, sharing stories about personal challenges, presenters with “lived experiences,” contact that includes a common goal, and having an uplifting message.  Those ingredients undergird the Changing Minds Young Filmmaker Competition, the NYC Mural Arts Project, and Fountain House Gallery.

The Arts as a Tool to Address Trauma

On September 17, 2018, at Hostos Community College LMTIF convened experts and stakeholders to discuss the role of the arts in addressing trauma.  Co-hosted with Bronx Council on the Arts, the gathering featured the Art Therapy Project, Theater of War, and Gibney. Framing the issue of trauma was Dr. Loree Sutton, retired Brigadier General and founding commissioner for the New York City Department of Veterans’ Services, our nation’s first municipal-level agency devoted entirely to veterans and their families. Dr. Sutton shared personal stories and a offered a stirring reminder that the trauma of war affects our entire society, not just the people experiencing it directly, but also touching the families and friends of veterans, and continuing to have impact for generations afterwards.

Theater of War at Hostos Community College

Bryan Doerries, Artist Director of Theater of War, engaged actors Kathryn Erbe and David Zayas to perform excerpts from Sophocles Ajax. The program closed with a special performance by Survivor Leaders in Gibney’s Community Action movement workshop program for survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

The National Institute of Health department of Veteran Affairs reports that 7.7 million Americans experience PTSD each year. Combat-related trauma is only part of the story. PTSD United, a service organization, reports that currently an estimated 8% of Americans–or 24.4 million people—suffer from trauma-related illness.

The National Institute of Health department of Veteran Affairs reports that 7.7 million Americans experience PTSD each year. Combat-related trauma is only part of the story. PTSD United, a service organization, reports that currently an estimated 8% of Americans–or 24.4 million people—suffer from trauma-related illness.

Trauma can be caused by experiencing or witnessing frightening, life-threatening or violent events. It can also be the result of prolonged or repeated exposure to injurious conditions. In all cases, trauma has a profound effect on individuals, families and communities. An effective way to help individuals and communities cope and to recover is through creative expression. Using the arts as a tool can promote wellness and resilience, reduce the stigma wrongfully associated with trauma victims, and help foster broader understanding and the lowering of barriers to care.

In 2018 the Illumination Fund commissioned a national Harris Poll that found that 87% of Americans surveyed believe that the arts help people overcome a traumatic event. 

The Arts in Addressing Aging-Related Diseases

On November 28, 2018, LMTIF hosted a gathering to explore the role of the arts to help address aging-related diseases at the Mark Morris Dance Studio in Brooklyn, featuring Dance for PD (Parkinson’s disease), Arts & Minds, and The Creative Center at University Settlement. The gathering also featured a special performance of a monologue from Colman Domingo’s extraordinary play, Dot, performed by Denise Burse, who starred in Kenny Leon’s production at RestorationART’s Billie Holiday Theater in Bedford Stuyvesant.

 “The arts are a creative outlet, they can spark memory, provide physical and psychological support, and, engaging in the arts with others can help build community as well as lower stigma and social isolation, not just for the person suffering from illness, but for his or her family and caregivers,” said Laurie M. Tisch, president and founder of the Illumination Fund. “The organizations we support are working in all of these areas and at the same time are helping to level the playing field, so that more people have the support they need.”

Aging-related diseases cut across social, ethnic and economic boundaries. Engagement in the arts can be a critical tool to help people cope with illness and improve their outlook and quality of life. Engagement in the arts also decreases isolation and builds community not only for the person living with an illness, but for family and caregivers. There is a wide gap in quality of life for aging populations in New York between those with financial resources and those without. Support from the Illumination Fund is intended to help organizations serve more people, build capacity within their organizations and level the playing field.

Denise Burse, star of Colman Domingo’s Dot, performing a monologue with Indira Etwaroo, RestorationART


The convenings brought attention to disparities in both rates of aging-related disease and access to care among poor and minority populations. Stress, due to poverty, discrimination, adversity and trauma is thought to impact aging-related disease rates in African American and Latinx populations. Higher rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes are also thought to be factors in increased risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias among lower-income and minority populations.

Gender plays another significant role. Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. But women who suffer from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are less likely to have informal care from spouses, family and communities.  A recent study shows that women with Parkinson’s tend to lack much-needed support from informal caregivers such as spouses, family members and paid health aides. Female patients are more frequent users of formal, paid caregiver services than male patients.

Stigmas and misconceptions associated with dementia and Parkinson’s are widespread. . People with dementia and Parkinson’s, and their families, are often isolated, or hidden, because of stigma or the possibility of negative reactions from neighbors, relatives, friends or employers. . People with dementias and Parkinson’s often conceal their diagnoses because of concerns about being treated differently or avoided in social situations and this may contribute to feelings of hopelessness and frustration. As with cancer and HIV, fear and stigma associated with Alzheimer’s disease, related dementias or Parkinson’s may cause individuals to delay seeking a diagnosis and care.

Participants in Dance for PD performance

NYC Health + Hospitals and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund Launch Arts in Medicine Program

NYC Health + Hospitals and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund Launch Arts in Medicine Program

Nation’s largest public health system and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City awarded $1.5 million from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund to expand programs serving health care staff, patients, and communities in sites across the City

Expansion includes initiatives to use the arts as a resource to promote employee wellness and resilience and to combat compassion fatigue

(New York, NY ― February 27, 2019)  Joined by New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray and NYC Health + Hospitals leadership—the philanthropist Laurie M. Tisch announced today at a news conference a $1.5 million grant via the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City to launch the public health system’s Arts in Medicine program. The program will introduce new initiatives benefiting staff and patients at hospitals, community health centers, and long-term care facilities, as well as support broader adoption of initiatives that have worked at a single site. The news conference was held at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue.

The grant is provided through the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund’s Arts in Health initiative, which supports organizations using the arts to address health issues affecting New Yorkers, with particular attention to increasing access to care and addressing disparities in health outcomes. The three-year grant to NYC Health + Hospitals, which is the largest municipal health system in the country and serves approximately 1.1 million New Yorkers annually, will significantly expand the public health system’s arts programs.

Beyond serving patients, the Arts in Medicine program will create new initiatives aimed at staff as a means to reduce stress, support emotional health, and help address “compassion fatigue,” historically known as “physician burnout.”

“NYC Health + Hospitals is in the vanguard of hospital systems across the country using the arts as a tool for healing,” said Laurie Tisch, Founder and President of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. “We know from decades of research that the arts have an important role to play in reducing stress and helping individuals in their healing process. We are pleased to be able to help increase access to these services to more patients, and also to the healthcare professionals who are so vital to the system. As first responders, doctors and health professionals are under enormous stress, and these programs are proven tools to support them in their work.” Ms. Tisch also serves as Vice Chairman of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Trustee and Past Chairman of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

“I am grateful for the additional resources and greater attention we are now able to give our caretakers and their patients. New York City’s health care providers are on the frontlines every day and we must support them in every way we can,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray. “Art is an important tool that can reduce stress and promote healing, and should be available to everyone. The Mayor’s Fund is grateful to Laurie Tisch and the Illumination Fund for their commitment to using art to support mental health.”

“Engaging in the arts makes for happier patients and less stressed staff, and we want our care community to benefit from a substantive and accessible Arts in Medicine program,” said Mitchell Katz, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer of NYC Health + Hospitals. “We are enormously grateful to Laurie Tisch and the Illumination Fund for their generosity and for having the appreciation and foresight to encourage the arts as a tool for fostering wellness and making it a priority for our patients and staff.”

“The arts empower us, inspire us, and help support a healthier, healing environment.  Art can be complementary to the physical care we provide by helping improve one’s emotional well-being, reduce stress, and alleviate anxiety,” said William Hicks, CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue. “Art belongs in public and shared spaces, and it communicates our value of creative human expression. It demonstrates passion, skill, and diversity and is similarly reflected in our dedicated staff at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue. We are grateful for the gifts of art on display such as ‘Ruth’s Dream’ in our south lobby, our sculptures, lithographs, and other mixed media that enriches our facility. This is a place where art meets medicine as we work to alleviate suffering and restore wellness.”

“Arts in Medicine is a fantastic example of innovation that’s possible when philanthropy, advocates, and government partner to develop solutions to some of our more complex public challenges—such as improving public health approaches and outcomes,” said Darren Bloch, Senior Advisor to the Mayor and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships. “We are grateful for the support the Illumination Fund is bringing to the nation’s largest municipal hospital system, and the vision shared by Laurie M. Tisch and our partners at the Mayor’s Fund and Health + Hospitals.”

“The power of partnership is on full display today with the launch of Arts in Medicine,” said Toya Williford, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. “Patients and health care workers will benefit from art as a tool to promote healing, and to lower workplace stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Our longstanding partnership with the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund exemplifies the important role public-private partnerships play to increase access to care while improving health outcomes. We are incredibly thankful to Laurie Tisch for her unwavering commitment to supporting a shared healing process for our health care workers and the patients they serve.”

“Art and culture contribute to healthy, thriving communities across NYC, something that our colleagues at NYC Health + Hospitals understand and embrace,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl. “We applaud the Mayor’s Fund and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund for supporting this effort to integrate the arts into our health care system—connecting medical professionals, caregivers, and patients directly; encouraging dialogue and collaboration; and transforming situations better known for stress and anxiety into positive, creative experiences.”

“Art therapy is a valuable component of promoting patient well-being, especially in mental and behavioral health treatment,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried.“Thank you to Laurie M. Tish for helping Health + Hospitals continue to be a national leader in providing a comprehensive and diverse set of patient and staff supports and services, and this grant will significantly expand access to these programs.” 

The Arts in Medicine program will introduce new initiatives such as:

  • HHArt of Medicine, an art-observation initiative that guides clinicians through intensive art viewing designed to enhance focus, improve communication, and encourage active listening, which in turn improves their ability to serve patients;
  • SoulCollage, workshops that facilitate self-discovery through collage composition to help staff express and share their experiences and emotions; and
  • Communal Murals, collaborative projects of hospital artists in residence, staff, and community members to create stunning works of art inside and outside facilities.

“Studies conducted in 2007 by Repar and Patton demonstrated that arts programs can lower rates of tension, anger, depression, and fatigue—symptoms of burnout and compassion fatigue. We value our staff, and Arts in Medicine will help bring back the joy in work and improve outcomes for staff and ultimately the patients,” said Linh Dang, Senior Director of the Arts in Medicine Program at NYC Health + Hospitals. 

Additionally, patient-oriented programs that have taken place in single hospitals will be expanded to other hospitals and clinics. For example, Music & Memory engages patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia and cognitive loss by creating personalized playlists with familiar songs for enhanced memory retrieval and cognitive functioning, among a variety of other positive health effects. The Lullaby Project, another example, partners pregnant women and new mothers with professional musicians to compose lullabies for their babies, ultimately reducing maternal anxiety and depression, aiding in child development, and strengthening the bond between parent and child.

“Employees throughout the system have taken the initiative to create extraordinary programs,” but they have happened in isolation,” said Dr. Katz.  “Expanding programs to new sites will leverage the engagement and enthusiasm and will enable staff to collaborate across our system and learn from each other.”

“Today, we are re-imagining the role of the arts in our health system to create active programming that will enrich our community,” said Dave A. Chokshi, MD, NYC Health + Hospitals Vice President and Chief Population Health Officer. “Arts in Medicine is about engaging patients, clinicians, caregivers, and staff in different types of healing connections. Visual arts, performing arts, theater, and literary arts help us tap into imagination, creativity, and expression as part of improving health.”

Physicians have reported a sense of renewed energy and focus as a direct result of engaging in the arts. Research on outcomes involving medical students who engaged in art observation training—reported on in the January 2018 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology—found that observational skills were improved significantly.

“I was first exposed to art in medicine when my residency class participated in an interactive art observation session at the Detroit Institute of Arts,” said Eric Wei, MD,Vice President and Chief Quality Officer at NYC Health + Hospitals. “Even though we were looking at the same painting, we had different interpretations of what was going on. It helped me realize how this happens at the bedside and how important communication is to achieving a shared mental model.”

Although art observation programs have existed for medical students and physicians in training and often have taken place in museums, the new visual art observation program will take advantage of the health system’s extensive collection of more than 3,000 art works, which began with commissioned pieces through the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and grew to include some of America’s leading artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and Keith Haring. The health system’s collection is the largest public art collection in New York City.

The creation of the Arts in Medicine program to address compassion fatigue among staff also fits with related programs at NYC Health + Hospitals. Helping Healers Heal is one such initiative launched by the public health system in April 2018. Following the model first adopted by Drs. Katz and Wei when they served together in the Los Angeles public health system, this peer-led employee wellness program offers emotional first aid to health care providers who are suffering from workplace stress or anxiety and may be at high risk of depression.

Arts and Medicine, at a glance

  • Initiatives for patients
    • Music & Memory®
    • The Lullaby Project
    • Visible Ink, a writing project to support patients battling cancer
  • Initiatives for staff
    • HHArt of Medicine
    • SoulCollage®
  • Initiatives for patients, staff, and the community
    • Communal Murals
    • Audio Art Tour
    • Rotating Art Exhibits
    • Live Concerts

Other initiatives are expected to be introduced over time.