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