Arts & Mental Health RFP: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the definition of “vulnerable populations” for purposes of this RFP?

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on all Americans, the mental health effects may be felt differently by certain populations, such as people of color and low-income individuals and families

We recognize that “vulnerable,” “marginalized,” “at risk,” and other terms referring to disproportionate conditions can mean different things to different people, and in different situations. Some involve being part of a particular population or community, while other vulnerabilities and risks are due to particular incidents.  For this RFP, the intention is to focus on people and communities whose experiences have put them at increased risk of mental health problems and populations whose well-being has been uniquely challenged as a result of COVID-19 and systemic inequities.

Other examples and data are provided in these articles:

What is the definition of “mental health” for purposes of this RFP? Is it for people diagnosed with a mental health disorder?

Language around mental health can be confusing and nuanced.  Some people use the terms “mental illness,” “mental disorder,” “mental health problems,” “mental health challenges,” or “mental distress.” “Illness” and “disorder” imply a specific psychological diagnosis.

We are taking a broad view.  Given the nature of the pandemic, community trauma, systemic inequities, and experiences that put people at greater risk of mental health problems, many individuals are experiencing increased anxiety and depression that impedes functioning, whether or not there is a diagnosable mental illness. Additionally, the perceived stigma of mental illness can deter people from seeking help, and there are cultural differences in the use of terminology.

We may use “mental health problems,” “mental health challenges,” “mental distress,” or just “mental health” in different contexts, but we are open to terminology that community-based organizations consider most effective for their constituents.

The scope of this program does not include learning disabilities or neurological issues such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Alzheimer’s or other dementias, except for people with these conditions who also have mental health problems.

What arts disciplines and types of arts organizations are eligible?

We welcome applications from arts organizations in any field, for example visual art, music, dance, theater, filmmaking, writing, and spoken word, and multidisciplinary. The program is open to a range of organizations, such as arts organizations serving a specific community or those serving a broader population such as a museum, as long as they have specific programs serving the RFP’s purposes.

Can you give us illustrative examples of the kinds of programs you are considering?

Following are illustrative examples.  These are not categories to apply under, nor program models to follow, but are just examples to help applicants understand the intention of the Arts & Mental Health initiative:

  • Storytelling and artist-facilitated group sessions to empower refugees who have experienced high stress and trauma
  • Creative writing, filmmaking or theatrical development with artists with lived experience of mental health to break down the barriers, stigma and prejudice that prevent communities of color from seeking mental health support
  • Arts-based activities to increase community awareness of mental health screenings, programs and resources
  • Artists working with system-impacted youth to disrupt the traumatic experience associated with the problematic narrative of the “criminal” through art, performance, and storytelling
  • Therapeutic arts experiences in museums
  • Partnerships between museums and community mental health organizations to develop services to those who are, or are at risk of experiencing diagnosed mental health problems, and those who experience other forms of social exclusion
  • Weekly support groups that combine artistic expression, social and emotional check-ins, and team building for youth of color experiencing isolation, stress, and anxiety during the pandemic
Can an arts organization collaborate with non-arts organizations, such as health or social services nonprofits?

Yes!  This may be especially valuable if the collaborator brings expertise in mental health, knowledge of the population, and/or other programs that also serve the populations.  However, in all cases, the arts organization must be the applicant and grantee.

Are arts therapy organizations eligible?

No, standalone arts therapy programs and organizations are not eligible. However, we have found that some organizations that we have supported have been able to integrate arts therapists and arts therapy interns to augment arts programs, in collaboration with other professional artists and organization staff. That is fine and within the scope of this RFP.

Are school-based programs eligible?

No. Schools and arts education are outside the scope of this program.

Are organizations that focus on “Creative Aging” eligible?

No. Creative Aging programs are outside of the scope of this program.

Can organizations that are based outside of NYC but that provide services within NYC eligible?

No.  Organizations must be based in New York City and provide direct programs and services in New York City.  However, if in addition to serving New Yorkers, the organizations serve people in other geographies, that’s fine.

Can programs also serve staff of the organization?

Yes.  Staff (and contractors) at nonprofit organizations have experienced enormous challenges, and they need to take care of themselves. Although the primary purpose of this RFP is for the organization’s external constituents, there may be a component that serves staff, especially those who interface with constituents with mental health challenges.

What do I do if my LOI is accepted?

If the Illumination Fund approves your submission, you will be notified and asked to submit a full application to the foundation. The application gives you an opportunity to share more details about your project, your organization, your goals and outcomes for the project, and other supporting materials. You will also have the opportunity to submit letters of support from partner organizations or community members. You will be sent instructions to access the application when you are notified that your application is moving forward.

If we are invited to submit a full proposal, what additional information will be needed?

If we invite a full proposal, we would request such information as a timeline for the project/program; a description of other entities, if any, that will be involved with the planning and execution of the project; and how you will be assessing or evaluating the program. We will also ask for a list of the organization’s other supporters, a list of principal staff that will be working on the program/project, a list of board members and their affiliations.

If we get the grant, and it’s a new program, how soon would we have to start the program?

If we invite a full proposal, we will ask for a program timeline.  For new programs (or enhancements of existing programs), we would absolutely understand that you would need time to put the pieces in place and get it up and running.  You would simply factor that into the timeline, and we can discuss your specific needs.

Is the second-year grant certain, or is there an additional application process?

The second-year grant is contingent on reporting that indicates the program is on track and showing success.

How many grants will be awarded?

We expect to make between 15 and 20 grants through this phase of the program. Additional grants will be made during subsequent phases of the Arts & Mental Health initiative, which will focus on different issues and populations.

How important is sustainability of my project?

We would like to see your program continue past the Illumination Fund’s grant, so sustainability will be a consideration.  However, we also know that limited-time programs can have a great impact, so we are not making sustainability a hard-and-fast criterion.

Are events eligible for funding?

This RFP is for programs rather than single events.  Therefore, this initiative is not for fundraising or cultivation events. However, events that are an integral part of the program strategy with particular populations may be permissible.  We will assess eligibility while reviewing the submissions.

Can the grant include administrative overhead?

Yes.  We will consider reasonable overhead as part of the overall grant.

Can I add attachments to my online inquiry form?

The only documents you can attach are an organizational budget and a program budget summary.  Otherwise, all information must be included in the online inquiry form fields.

Can I send in a hard copy of organizational materials?

No. We can only accept submissions through the online application portal.

Will all applicants be interviewed?

We will conduct interviews with organizations that are selected to submit full proposals.  The interviews would be conducted after those proposal submissions, so it offers an opportunity to discuss what you had submitted.

Can applicants contact a foundation staff member for help?

If you have eligibility questions that have not been answered on this FAQ or if you have problems with the portal, you can email us at and we will try to help. We will not be able to respond to individual program-related questions.

If additional questions that are otherwise not answered in this FAQ document and that are pertinent to multiple organizations, we will revise this document to incorporate those.