Announcing Request for Proposals for COVID-19-related Arts & Mental Health Program

Part of the Illumination Fund’s $10 million 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 NYC

Multi-component program is the Illumination Fund’s first Open-Call Request for Proposals, targeting small and medium-sized arts and cultural organizations in New York City. Pre-applications will be accepted online beginning July 15, 2021

New York, NY, July 15, 2021: In response to the increasing need for mental health resources brought on by the COVID‑19 pandemic, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund is creating a new Arts & Mental Health program within its Arts in Health Initiative to support arts‑based programs addressing mental health for people and communities disproportionately affected by the COVID‑19 pandemic. The first phase will utilize an open‑call Request for Proposals (RFP) for arts and culture organizations that use the arts as an approach to raise awareness of mental health challenges, promote healing, and foster creativity for these communities. Subsequent components in 2021 and 2022 will focus on the mental health of artists and arts workers, and essential workers.

The COVID‑19 pandemic has glaringly exposed long‑standing health disparities that harm historically marginalized and vulnerable populations, 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.

“We created this new program area to meet the need of the time,” said Laurie Tisch, founder and president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. “We began our Arts in Health initiative in 2018 to help more people in New York gain access to the arts as a tool for healing. Our focus areas included mental health stigma, trauma, and aging‑related diseases, as well as a partnership with New York City Health + Hospitals to use the arts to address stress and fatigue of frontline health workers. Grantees included organizations that use the arts for survivors of domestic violence, justice‑involved youth, refugees, and people with Alzheimer’s, but we couldn’t have anticipated the COVID pandemic and its impact on these very issues,” said Ms. Tisch. “Access to the arts to address mental health challenges is more important than ever.”

The Need

According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and New York State Health Foundation, in May 2020 more than one third of New Yorkers reported symptoms of severe anxiety and/or depression, which is more than triple the rate reported in the overall U.S. pre‑pandemic.  But the report also found that poor mental health as a result of the pandemic disproportionately impacted low‑income populations and communities of color.

Recent reports indicate that many Americans have demonstrated remarkable resilience, and rates of anxiety and depression have been decreasing.  However, the disparities persist. According to a US Census Bureau survey in June 2021, although COVID rates were the lowest they had been since the start of the pandemic, nationally 36% of Hispanics and 34% of Blacks reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, compared to 28% of whites. (CDC, via

The research also showed that other factors correspond to increased mental health issues in vulnerable populations. For example, based on national data:

Other vulnerable populations that have experienced increased mental health challenges include people with pre‑existing mental health challenges, people with disabilities, victims of intimate partner violence, incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individuals, people experiencing homelessness, and unemployed or underemployed individuals.

There is evidence also that events such as the deaths of George Floyd and other unarmed Black men and women, political discourse leading up to the 2020 presidential elections, and anti‑Asian bias and violence have negatively impacted community mental health.

The number of Americans receiving mental health counseling or prescription medication increased significantly – an encouraging trend – but the increase in unmet mental health needs was even higher. This reinforces the importance of addressing mental health stigma and access to services.

“We are seeing hope from the vaccine, and mental health pressures are leveling off for the population at large, but data is showing that certain populations continue to experience elevated mental health issues,” said Rick Luftglass, executive director of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.  “In light of the inequities that affect physical health, it’s essential to recognize that the disparities also affect mental health.”

The Program

According to Ms. Tisch, “Over the past several years many arts and cultural organizations have begun to use the arts to address social needs and issues. Increasingly, they are seeing opportunities to support health issues, including mental health.”

“We want to be clear that the arts are not a panacea and are not a substitute for essential mental health services,” said Luftglass, “but research has demonstrated that they can be a highly effective tool as an entry point to address many mental health issues, particularly ones resulting from trauma and stigma.”

“Since the pandemic began, arts organizations have seen their constituents and communities struggle, and have been developing or expanding services in response to emerging needs,” Luftglass continued. “We developed this new fund and our RFP because we see a growing demand and a need among smaller, community‑based cultural organizations many of which are chronically under‑resourced.”

Targeted to support small to medium‑sized organizations, the Illumination Fund will award project‑based grants of up to two years to arts and cultural organizations with operating budgets between $50,000 and $5 million. Grants may be used for program for expansion, enhancements, or new programs. The initial submissions will be accepted via a grant portal on the Illumination Fund’s website.

For the first time in its 14‑year history, the Illumination Fund is issuing a Request for Proposals to determine its grantees. The RFP has two steps: first, the Illumination Fund is inviting organizations to complete a short online form describing their proposed activity or project. Second, based on these submissions, the Foundation will invite selected organizations to submit a full proposal for consideration.

Grants will be awarded to organizations whose proposals demonstrate the potential to mitigate mental health issues brought on or worsened by the pandemic among vulnerable or underserved populations.

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.

Cover art:
Sadiq Armuni Elijah Slade aka ELI
Lone Wolf, 2020
gouache on fabric
from Artistic Noise, Pillowcase Project