New Arts & Mental Health program to serve communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic

Press Release: Jan. 11, 2022

The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund announces inaugural grants in new Arts & Mental Health Program to serve communities impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Arts & Mental Health program is an expansion of the Illumination Fund’s Arts in Health Initiative. The new program supports organizations that use the arts to address mental health challenges in communities disproportionately affected by the COVID 19 pandemic in New York City.
Common Threads Project

New York, NY, January 11, 2022: Philanthropist Laurie M. Tisch announced today that 14 New York City-based organizations will receive grants in the Illumination Fund’s new Arts & Mental Health program, an expansion of its Arts in Health initiative. The Arts & Mental Health program is designed to increase access to mental health services for communities with long-standing health disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 120 arts and culture organizations responded to the Illumination Fund’s open-call Request for Proposals to small and medium sized organizations with budgets under $5 million. The organizations that are receiving grants work in communities that have often been overlooked and under resourced to deal with mental health challenges in their populations.

“After two long years, with so much tragic illness and death, data show that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a mental health pandemic in its wake, especially evident among communities already struggling to overcome other challenges,” said Laurie Tisch, founder and president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. “More people than ever are in need of mental health services and we want to make sure that our most vulnerable communities have access to programs that can help alleviate their suffering and build resilience.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has glaringly exposed long-standing health disparities that harm historically marginalized and vulnerable people, including communities of color and people with pre-existing social, economic and health challenges.

Disproportionate rates of infection, hospitalizations and deaths have been widely reported, however, less attention has been given to the unequal burden of mental health impacts. Similar inequities based on race and ethnicity are exacerbated by circumstances such as unemployment, domestic violence, homelessness, pre-existing mental illness, disabilities, and immigration status. Grants in the Arts & Mental Health program are targeted to use the arts as a vehicle to address mental health challenges and to fight stigma that is a barrier to seeking help.

The organizations receiving grants are deploying diverse strategies, including:
facilitated group-based narrative development and storytelling;

  • development of music, dance and theater-based programs with targeted mental health facets;
  • the sewing of story-cloths by refugees and survivors of gender-based violence;
  • new partnerships with mental health organizations or licensed providers;
  • embedding mental health counselors to serve staff and program participants;
  • providing training in trauma-informed practices;
  • increasing access to therapy for performing artists and arts workers; and
  • developing public performances as a vehicle to destigmatize mental health challenges and bring awareness to resources.

The Illumination Fund’s Arts & Mental Health program grantees are:

Art Start: The hire of its first clinical social worker for creative arts workshops for system-involved youth and youth and families experiencing homelessness.

Common Threads Project: Creation of two groups of refugee women and survivors of gender-based violence in partnership with the Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture and City College’s Psychological Center, using the intrinsically healing properties of creating story-cloths in a sewing circle with other survivors. Participants can also show work in exhibitions that raise awareness of gender-based violence.

Dances for a Variable Population: Developing Moving Minds, an adaptation of its Movement Speaks® program: Adding a mental health specialist to expand and enhance dance and movement workshops for older adults in Harlem, the Bronx, Queens, Chinatown, and the Lower East Side.

Dance/NYC: New programs to provide mental health support for the organization’s staff, which serves thousands of dancers, dance workers and dance organizations.

Darkness RISING Project: Music performances and facilitated discussions for the Black community and intersecting members of the LGBTQIA community, the Latinx community, formerly incarcerated people and artists with lived mental health challenges.

DE-CRUIT Veterans Program: Theater workshops utilizing Shakespearian plays to spark dialogue and address the mental health needs of vulnerable military veterans, with a special focus on veterans of color, low-income, and incarcerated veterans.

ID Studio Theater: To expand the Bilingual Healing Arts Initiative, innovative, culturally relevant arts programming that includes music, dance, theater, movement, meditation, memories, and art, developed in partnership with hospitals and health centers in the South Bronx.

IndieSpace: Community Care Program and Mental Health Resources serving BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ disabled and immigrant individual artists.

Kundiman: Trauma-informed creative writing workshops and annual retreat for the Asian American writers’ community.

Pregones Puerto Rican Traveling Theater: Development of Abrazo: The Embrace for Mental Health, a new interactive theater project to raise community awareness of post-COVID mental health crises and to empower local New York City participants to seek and access existing mental health services.

Redhawk Native American Arts Council: Serving indigenous community members across NYC, Redhawk Native American Arts Council has created Healing Through Indigenous Culture and Traditions to offer indigenous people the opportunity to create traditional instruments and learn songs and dances to foster connections between traditions and use music-making and songs as a means of storytelling around healing and Indigenous traditions practiced for thousands of years.

Storefront for Art and Architecture in collaboration with Terra Firma, DYKWTCA (Do You Know Where the Children Are, co-organized by artists-activists Mary Ellen Carroll and Lucas Michael), Reddymade Architecture, and Dr. Jessica Marshall: Development of “RSVP” (Please Respond), which will support refugee and immigrant children and families in the Bronx with a specially designed trauma response program involving creation of a portable structure in Terra Firma’s mental health, medical and legal clinic to conduct arts-based mental health activities for adults and youth.

Target Margin Theater: Community storytelling project, serving Sunset Park community members including Muslim, Asian and Latinx immigrant groups.

viBe Theater Experience: Wellness curriculum and staff training in mental health strategies for programs serving girls, young women and non-binary youth of color.


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. Founded in 2007 by philanthropist Laurie M. Tisch, the Illumination Fund plays an active role in supporting innovative approaches across a range of issues—increasing access to healthy food, building healthy communities, supporting economic opportunity and ensuring that arts and arts education are accessible to all. In 2018, the Illumination Fund launched Arts in Health, a $10-million-dollar, 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. Initial areas of focus addressed mental health stigma, trauma, and aging-related diseases. In July 2021 the Initiative expanded to support arts and cultural organizations addressing mental health challenges in marginalized and vulnerable communities in New York City. For more information, visit or follow @LMTischFund on Twitter.