New York’s Response to the Pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic brought our city to a halt, The New York Community Trust and several philanthropic partners reached out to each other and quickly organized a powerful mobilization of funds to strengthen the city’s safety net.

The 18 lead partners created the NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund to, in part, get urgently needed money to arts nonprofits whose survival was suddenly endangered. The needs across the city were enormous. But, because of our experience with previous catastrophic events such as September 11 and superstorm Sandy, we knew how we could respond: our grantmaking needed to be well-informed, precise, and go to where it would do the most good.

We decided to target our grants to small and mid-sized nonprofits working in the arts and culture fields, as well those in human services. Two committees made up of representatives from the lead partners committed to weekly reviews of applications.

The human services grants addressed critical needs people had for access to food, medical care, and behavioral health assistance. We prioritized arts and cultural organizations because of their importance for the city’s quality of life and economy—and because so many groups, which struggle in the best of times, had a precipitous fall off of revenues due to the state-wide shelter-in-place order. Doors were shut to the public, performances cancelled, and fundraising galas had to be indefinitely postponed. By focusing on small and mid-sized nonprofits, we also were able to aid groups that champion the work coming from and serving ALAANA communities, as The Trust has done through the Mosaic Network and Fund collaborative.

The partners created an expedited application and review process. As the word got out and applications poured in, the committee saw that we had to prioritize groups that had solid track records, could provide meaningful services during the crisis, and were serving vulnerable populations and those most in need. Each week, we met, made decisions, and then tested them to be sure that they mirrored the geographic and racial demographics of the sector.

In addition, we were looking for groups that had solid plans to quickly pivot to connecting with audiences and clients online, and needed technical assistance to do so. Given the psychological repercussions of the pandemic and social distancing, we wanted to see programming that was restorative and helped maintain a sense of community despite the mandated isolation.

By June, as the NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund ended, we had raised nearly $110 million from 1,300 donors; this included $37 million for a no-interest loan program run by the Nonprofit Finance Fund and a $73 million grants program run by The Trust. Together, we reached more than 750 agencies—half of which were arts organizations. We are proud of what we and our partners have accomplished, but we also know the need for aid will continue to be massive.

While the initial shock is still reverberating across the city, we are seeing nonprofits turning their attention to adjusting to the “new normal,” delivering services in a city that for months will be unlike the city with which we are familiar.

What is clear is that artists will continue to make art, and certainly the demand is still there—in fact, now more than ever—so the job going forward is to determine how to bring artists, audiences, and communities together. What has also become plain is that Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities were among those hit hardest by the pandemic, amplifying the ongoing disparity of resources across the city and country. It is urgent that we re-double our efforts to address systemic racism and keep advocating for racial equity in the arts.