In March, local artist Tova Speter launched an exhibit called “Translations” at a gallery in Needham. As quickly as it opened, the exhibit closed due to COVID-19.

Although Speter put the art online, she needed more to carry her through the pandemic.

“As a community artist, all of my work stopped,” says Speter, who lives in Newton and facilitates large-scale art projects with groups including CJP, area Jewish day schools, and synagogues. “It was not an acceptable situation for me. Every fiber of my being wanted to continue to be able to creatively engage community. I was struggling.”

In April, she found her purpose. Inspired by her March exhibit, Speter created “Translations: chains of positive energy (c.o.p.e.)” in response to the isolating effects of the crisis. Speter put out a call to her artist network to create chains of expressions to offer something positive during the pandemic.

The call was heard. More than 75 artists, ranging in age from 6 to 70-plus and representing five states, participated. Each chain was started by someone offering a word/phrase/quote that described a quality or mindset that allowed them to move forward through the pandemic. The word was then sent to another artist to “translate” into their own modality.

Once complete, that new artwork was sent to a different artist to translate into a different modality, and on and on, with each artist only seeing the one translation immediately prior to their own.

The artists did not see the reflections written by the previous artist, only the image of the work and its title. The reflections were revealed only when the chain was complete.

“Every day I was getting a new gift in my inbox from an artist,” says Speter. “It was so amazing. I saw the energy continue through each one and was inspired by how interconnected they all were. There is an energy that flows through art and artists—it’s all about kehillah (community). I felt such joy and honor to hold this work.”

The project was completed in August with 14 chains of seven translations each; 14 represented the days of recommended quarantine before re-emerging, and seven represented the days of the week that each feel so long during this hard time. All of the chains can be viewed here and you can see “Waves” below.

For artist Susan Epstein of Cambridge, participating in the “c.o.p.e.” project helped to awaken her “own dormant creative energy.”

“It was a safe way to explore some of my own feelings about living through this pandemic,” says Epstein. “When I received the completed chain of seven images and could see the connections between the various threads, I was reminded of the power of the creative process in uncovering and potentially healing the human experience.”

Speter says she is planning to launch another similar project in the winter.

“I can’t stop now,” she says. “Connecting artists through the chains was really rewarding and moving. This one was in response to isolation and the COVID-19 crisis. But the world changes every day. For the next iteration, we’ll have to wait and see what the winter brings.”

Watch a JLive Art Q&A with Tova Speter below.

Follow “Translations 2020” on Instagram here. And stay tuned to hopefully be able to see Speter’s “Translations” exhibit in person at the The Gallery @ Mayyim Hayyim in Spring 2021.

Speter is also the mentor for the new Community Creative Fellowship, a unique opportunity for two Boston-area artists to share and learn with our community from November 2020 through June 2021. Together, CJP and Jewish Arts Collaborative are seeking two creatives who are eager to share their craft, process and Jewish story with many communities, and create a capstone project inspired by the experience. We encourage artists and creatives of all media to apply by Sept. 15. Fellowship stipend is $20,000.