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

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

To provide emergency grants for nonprofit human services and arts/culture organizations to retain staff and continue to provide programs despite suffering financial losses

To offer financial and informational resources to artists across the United States

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

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

Adaptation of museum-based art observation and engagement  programs for people with Alzheimer's and other dementias and their caregivers (English and Spanish)

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

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

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

Adaptation and continuation of program using dance as a resource in helping survivors of domestic and gender-based violence

Adaptation and continuation of dance program for people with Parkinson's disease

Adaptation and continuation of group-based art therapy for people who have experienced severe trauma

Providing resources for artmaking by patients, survivors of cancer and other serious diseases, and seniors

Arts and Culture Institutions

To continue to pay staff during closure

To continue to pay staff during closure

To mitigate COVID-19 organizational losses

Basic Needs and Services

To support organization providing emergency food through mobile markets and food pantries, including those providing kosher and halal food

To provide financial assistance to help Hunter students pay for rent, food, child care, unexpected medical bills, and other essential expenses

To provide technology, childcare and education services for women and children in homeless shelters

Beyond New York City

To provide grants to organizations that are providing economic assistance, food access, and filling gaps in social services

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