Artist and art therapist Tova Speter’s work can be seen throughout the world. I was lucky enough to chat with her about her murals and how the process of making them brings communities together.

I discovered you because I walked by a mural in Cambridge and was struck by what I saw. On closer inspection I realized the artist was named “Tova,” and I was excited that I might have the chance to feature you in this column. I had no idea your murals can be found throughout the world. How do you choose what community to work with? Or does the community choose you?

Four Questions with Tova Speter, MuralistI tend to find partnering communities through word of mouth. They often seek me out after having seen my work somewhere, hearing me present, or being referred to me by someone else. That said, I also have reached out to communities based on where I’m traveling, or after I’ve identified a community in need or had a networking connection. The communities with whom I have partnered range greatly and have included neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, shelters, programs for at-risk youth, camps and more. I’ve facilitated over 30 community murals with youth and adults, as well as intergenerational and international projects.

I would love to hear a bit about how art therapy works. Is this something you do one-on-one?

As a licensed mental health counselor and art therapist, I have a private practice in Newton Centre through which I provide individual and family counseling services. I believe engaging in the creative art process to be inherently therapeutic. I utilize art-making with clients as a tool for self-expression, reflection and relaxation; on a deeper level it can also serve as a window into exploring feelings and thoughts that are not as easily discussed through verbal therapy. My background in art therapy informs my community mural work and helps me discover strengths, build teamwork and instill community pride.

Tell me about The MEM Project you direct. First, what does “MEM” stand for?

The MEM Project was inspired by the Hebrew word “mifgash,” meaning “meeting place.” We bring community members together to Meet, Engage and Mural—facilitating the discovery of an artistic “meeting place” to connect and explore. To arrive at this “meeting place,” The MEM Project works with Jewish groups and individuals interested in exploring their identity and spirituality through Jewish art workshops and strengthening their collective bond through community mural projects. A social justice component offers opportunities for workshop participants to connect with and give voice to under-served populations in an innovative model of community partnership through the shared mural experience.

We both have young kids. What’s the best material—crayons, markers, paints—to get little ones interested in art?

All of the above! My 3-and-a-half-year-old has already contributed to many of my mural projects and loves to paint. I’ve found that starting with finger paint works best. I’d recommend the washable kind! It’s helpful to have art materials around and accessible, but also important to encourage their exploration. Focusing on pure enjoyment of the art-making process rather than assigning meaning or judgment to their work is also key. Kids are best served if they’re taught at a young age that there are no mistakes in art and that they’re each artists waiting to discover themselves and be discovered.

Four Questions with Tova Speter, MuralistFour Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!

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