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COVID Relief Impact Study Released

ILI COVID Relief Impact Study 2023

In March, 2023, the ILI founding partners Alternate ROOTS, First Peoples Fund, NALAC, PA’I Foundation, and Sipp Culture released a COVID Relief Impact Study to report on and evaluate the impact of the program to secure and distribute emergency funds during the pandemic. The study was conducted by McNeil Creative Enterprises, led by Alison McNeil, who is also a ILI Year 4 Fellow.

See key highlights from the report below.

In late 2019, the world watched a fast acting, deadly respiratory illness, COVID-19, move across the globe, increasingly threatening lives and economies with each passing day. 

By March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) categorized COVID-19 as a global pandemic. Shortly after, cities around the world began to shut down. Almost every industry closed their doors, leaving many with very little resources, time, and hope for survival during the uncertainty. Effectively the world was facing a medical and financial crisis for which many communities, families and individuals were not prepared. Artists were among the first to be affected by the shutdown, many losing the ability to work and earn money. 

In the midst of the global pandemic, arts leaders around the United States quickly rallied to design processes that could facilitate a swift dissemination of emergency funding to artists and arts organizations. To assist with reach and scale, three primary arts funding programs were initially created around the country to support the sector. These emergency funding programs were intended to reach as many artists and arts organizations as possible. While many of the standard application procedures and fund administration efforts for these funding programs weren’t as stringent as standard philanthropic practices, the Intercultural Leadership Institute (ILI) leaders sat on many of the grant panels for the aforementioned efforts and observed how the artists, culture bearers, arts practitioners and change-makers within the ILI community were largely being excluded from funding opportunities. The ILI leaders were determined to ensure that their communities were not excluded in the emergency relief efforts. They organized to design a funding approach that met the needs of their communities, the historically excluded and overlooked. With approval to repurpose existing funds and a major gift from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, ILI launched the ILI COVID-19 Relief Fund. 

While the majority of the ILI core partners previously served as regranting intermediaries for the sector and had expertise disseminating funds to their respective communities, the ILI COVID-19 Relief Fund would be the first regranting attempt for ILI as an entity. The ILI COVID-19 Relief effort was nationwide spanning all 50 states, Canada, and the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico. This Fund relied on “Pilina” or the power of relationships, awareness of the unique challenges and needs of the ILI communities, and a commitment to expanding and valuing arts and culture beyond dominant social norms. 

ILI’s COVID-19 Relief Fund exceeded the ILI partner’s desired outcomes. Together, the five core ILI partner organizations: 

  • Reached Communities Underserved by Regional & National Grantmaking Organizations 
  • Alleviated Economic Loss and Hardship among grantees 
  • Leveraged Funding and Increased Visibility & Support for ILI Partners and their Communities 
  • Designed and Offered a Low-Burden Grant Program that Met Specific Needs of Grantees


While ILI’s efforts filled a necessary gap, there is a great opportunity to create a systemic shift and practice informed by the lessons learned across the country, so that the sector is better equipped to be even more effective and inclusive in the future.

"Everything that was already happening was heightened….we were experiencing everything in the moment just like everyone else…we extrapolated it to if it’s affecting us and we know about the funds available—then our communities must be really struggling…"

ILI Core Partner

As ILI’s fiscal sponsor, NALAC received the funding then disseminated the following amounts on behalf of ILI: 

Alternate ROOTS: $1,250,000 

First Peoples Fund (FPF): $1,250,000 

National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC): $1,250,000 

PA’I Foundation (PA’I): $750,000 

Mississippi Center for Cultural Production (SIPP Culture): $500,000Mellon’s contribution arrived in late August of 2020, offering a significant boost in funding that allowed some of the partner organizations to offer an additional cycle of larger grants. Funds would be distributed over a one year period for crisis relief with the exception of First Peoples Fund (FPF). FPF extended beyond a year. 

With resources in hand, each core partner organization designed and administered COVID-19 Relief Funds with unique names that fit the tenets of their beliefs, honored the traditions of their communities, and relied on methods that moved the needle for the arts and culture sector ensuring that those excluded were seen, valued and supported.

The weaving of data collected paints a picture of three periods of ILI’s COVID Relief efforts. 

First, it illustrates the tireless steps put forth by ILI leadership to respond to their communities’ needs, and refuse defeat when resources from funders were limited. Second, the activities of ILI partners administering their respective COVID Relief programs. Third, the outcomes and impacts of these efforts as experienced by the grantees. Sandwiched between these narratives is the perspectives and accounts of funders, and what influenced their giving decisions during the COVID-19 crisis. The data presented in this section address the research questions: 

What impact have the COVID-19 Relief funds had in the southern region, ILI regions and to the ILI members respectively? 

What story can be told about the power of advocacy and resiliency in the most impacted regions of the country during the COVID pandemic? 

What lessons and takeaways can the philanthropic sector glean about the power and impact of funding to these communities, in these regions through knowledgeable and trusted intermediaries with existing long-standing relationships? 

Table of COVID relief funds distributed by ILI Core Partners

"In all honesty, I needed it. I have four daughters. During that time it was really really hard, and scary. I was out there trying to figure out what was available as far as work and opportunities. This was one of them. It really came down to survivor mode." ILI COVID-19 Relief Fund, Individual Grantee

The word cloud below highlights the words used by the ILI grantees to describe the impact of the ILI COVID-19 Relief Fund. The larger the word, the more frequent the sentiment was shared. Sentiments were shared in multiple languages.

Word cloud from ILI COVID relief fund recipients
Map of ILI COVID-19 Grantee Locations and Per Capita Rates of COVID-19 Related Deaths by State


Here are some key numbers. See full report above for all data.

Issues ILI COVID-19 Grantees Address in Their Work
Top 10 Artistic Disciplines of ILI COVID-19 Relief Grantees
Most Urgent Needs of Individual ILI COVID-19 Grantees
Impact of ILI COVID-19 Relief Efforts on Grantee Organizations

"[The grant] helped us transition to online platforms and gave us the opportunity to reach more people and connect with more partners. Prior to COVID, we were strictly in person, so this grant played a role in helping us move online and broadened the work we were doing." ILI COVID-19 Relief Fund,Organization Grantee

ILI’s efforts to advocate, acquire, and administer grant funds to their regions and communities is an exemplary model of how to close the gap in funding historically excluded populations through grassroots based intermediary funders. 

They were people centered and aimed to serve as many as possible. ILI searched high and low to advocate and find all resources available for their constituents. They tirelessly served as frontline workers, even at the expense of their own wellbeing. ILI also eliminated barriers to entry by focusing their processes on the needs and unique aspects of their communities. Their relationships with donors aided their ability to offer these grants. The deep bonds of trust and commitment to community fueled the collective work of ILI’s COVID-19 Relief Fund and also positively impacted the grantee experiences. 

The generosity of ILI’s efforts can be summed up in these words:

Word cloud

ILI exceeded their desired outcomes. Together, the five core partner organizations achieved the following: