When you enter the doors of Family Table’s Waltham location at the JF&CS headquarters, a new sight greets you. Twelve feet long and representing a fusion of 42 talented artists, “Braided” is a mosaic that makes a powerful statement of artistry and values.
“As clients and staff come into the space, some of them stop and just say, ‘oh my God, that’s beautiful,” said Bernice Behar, JF&CS Family Table Program Director. “It’s really spectacular.”
Behar said the mosaic came out of a desire to recognize the milestone of the Family Table expansion and honor the interplay between all of the services available at JF&CS. The new expansion means JF&CS will work support to help more families access not only food, but the full range services such as government benefits advocacy, or mental health coaches or parenting support or Holocaust survivor services.
“Our space expansion project took five years to accomplish and was the result of so
many peoples’ hard work and dedication,” Behar said. “When it came time to figure out a way to acknowledge this accomplishment, we really didn’t want to do just a plaque. We wanted to do something artistic.”
As Behar and colleagues were working on the issue, Amy Marks, a Family Table volunteer and member of the New England Mosaic Society (NEMS), came forward with an opportunity to collaborate.
“It was absolutely perfect timing,” Behar said. “By working with NEMS, we were able to create a mosaic that captured the values that animate our agency.”
“NEMS was already thinking of a collaborative project as a way to help our members deal with their feelings of isolation during the pandemic,” said Emily Bhargava, who along with Marks is a co-chair of NEMS. “At the same time, my co-chair Amy suggested that Family Table would be a great place for a mosaic. So, when we found that they were looking for an artistic way to honor this milestone, it just seemed like a perfect fit.”
Bhargava, a veteran of collaborative public art design, sought funding to complete the project in the form of a grant from the Waltham Cultural Council. She began working with members of NEMS and staff at JF&CS to envision the design.
“There was such a groundswell of interest among our members, and ultimately we had 42 of our artists sign up as part of the project,” Bhargava said. “We set up listening sessions with staff at JF&CS, who were interested in interpreting how the different parts of the organization worked together. That’s where the “Braided” design came from. We helped them translate the sense of mission they had for the work they do into concrete images, which each artist represented in their part of the final design.”
On June 12, Family Table opened its doors to the artists of NEMS and their families for a celebration of the art piece’s final installation. For many, it was the first time they had ever seen the design in its finished form.
“We, the artists of NEMS, had never worked together on a collaborative project this large before, and it was so meaningful to see all the designs together, the depth and complexity in person,” Bhargava said. “And as we engaged with the staff, it turned out there were more connections between our members and JF&CS than we had realized. One of our artists adopted her son through JF&CS. So it meant so much to so many of us that we could give back. And we’ve heard since then that the piece has opened connections with clients who come and use the space. They’re really responding to it.”
A plaque with a QR code explaining the meaning of “Braided” is planned for future installation, along with a commemorative list of donor names. But Braided Strand will not be the last time JF&CS collaborates with NEMS. “We’re already working on another mosaic together,” Behar said.
To learn more about the mosaic and explore the meaning behind each of the pieces, visit www.jfcsboston.org/mosaic.