Category Archives: Teaching Artist

So what is this thing you call Socially Engaged Art?

I find it distracting when I’m teaching and the students are so busy taking notes about what you’re saying that they don’t hear the words. My new tactic is to put the topic in writing, hand it out and tell them everything I am saying is in the summary so please listen up to what I’m saying and give your pen a rest. Of course this only works for specific topics and not when you get into exploring the meat of an issue and want to follow those intriguing threads. But for introductions, it helps. And so here is my blurb on this topic. What is this thing you call Socially Engaged Art?

Layers of the Hijab artist panel

Simply put, It is an art that makes use of artistic methodology to engage with a community to address social issues of importance.

It may be useful to ask what is it not? It’s not commercially viable and it does not hang well or even belong in a gallery or museum. It’s not a single discipline. It hasn’t been documented as other art forms have, either by the critics or the historians. Consequently it has little documented art historical context.

When social engagement works, it’s not an art that represents, it’s an art that is. The art, the process, is the thing. It’s roots lie in happenings, performance art, conceptual art, installation, post minimalism, and relational aesthetics. It’s often called public art or community art, especially in Europe. It is a timeless phenomenon although some of the most successful contemporary artists adhere to the form. Similar to much contemporary art, the aesthetic lens is about methodology. It’s difficult to present it out of context, it’s site specific, and as it’s community based. It is also people specific and social specific. It balances ethical standards with aesthetic standards and therein lays both its value and it’s challenge. A myopic view can see it simply as social action.

Socially engaged artworks often result in a relationship between the artist and the community. Successful work is not appropriation. The work focuses on process and the artist works from within the community, embedded and immersed in the project and the community culture. When social practice works, it is an art that grows exponentially through collaboration.

The socially engaged artist considers their artistic intentions within the social realm, as well as the artistic world, with intention to contribute to social change. With this professed aim to shift social strategy, you may ask how is it different than political engagement?

It is through the lens of the artist that a shift occurs. An artist’s perspective draws from metaphor and interprets in innovative ways. By seeking engagement with the audience and making use of creative problem solving, ideas emerge. Symbols are used. Symbolic allegorical works evolve to speak to our social conscience through our aesthetic voice.

When work moves you visually, spiritually, viscerally, beyond the intellectual, you can ask yourself what’s going on here? If you look deeper into this meaning, you will find the vocabulary of the art world, and the vocabulary of socially engaged art.

The Sacred You and Me: a culmination

IMG_1179The Sacred You and Me is an arts and culture workshop sponsored by SEEDarts, but more than that it is a community, relations, a family. I recently taught a workshop with elderly women aged 65-95 from varying faiths and ethnic backgrounds. We met weekly to share experience, culture, stories and to express these facets through art making. Immigrant women from southeast Asia sat with East African women, Filipino immigrants and African American women from Seattle as well as the south. Many had never spoken with a woman from another culture. The sharing of food, holiday traditions, and crafts turned into a heartfelt sharing of life’s turning points and one’s deepest held secrets.

IMG_2837I believe when you tap into your creative soul, trust follows. This belief was found true through the words and actions of these women. The women chose a Maya Angelou quote to sum up their final project, a glass mosaic for the foyer of the building, “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud. “ They speak of building community, but beyond that they talk of being more comfortable in their residence, learning to grow through their own prejudices, and finding deeper meaning in their relationships with others, and forgiveness of both others and themselves. One woman came to tears describing her newfound understanding of other races. She confessed of her prejudice as a young women helping in the hospitals of the Philippines, avoiding the black soldiers while she catered to the others.

DSC_0030We went to Jack Straw Productions Recording Studios to record poems, stories, and songs. One women led her reading with a story of healing. “We stormed the heavens with prayer.” These powerful words are poetry and with her performance I felt fulfilled that indeed, these women were poets and artists and had been inspired by sharing, trusting, and tapping into their creative souls.

The mosaic with sound will install in the resident’s foyer this fall.




The Sacred You and Me

16 amazing women showed up for our workshop today, and wrote this story, phrase by phrase as we went around the room, DaDa style.

This is a memory of my husband that I just met. We got to talkin and got to know each other. We took a trip and danced all night, mesmerized with the beautiful flowers he brought. He was tall and handsome, he was fabulous and I loved him so much.

During the trip we met somebody else.

Happy my husband’s alive. I love my daughter and enjoy my children.

We secretly met, me and that other. It is really difficult with another man talking with her own husband. I don’t know how to talk about another man.

Any man will do.
The other man showed me a world that I thought I would never see. Then I woke up, and realized this other man was the mission I would spend my life looking for.


Race in the 21st century

Under My Skin: Bringing Race & Social Justice Issues Into Your Classroom

Welded wire

Welded wire

I am proud to be a guest speaker for this important Teacher Workshop at the Wing Luke Museum on October 26th, 8:30-2:30.  I’ll be sharing my experience working with East African High School  girls around issues of identity. I will be showing the beautiful documentary on the project created by Fox Wilmar Productions.

This program is for teachers interested in anti-bias teaching. The workshop augments the current exhibitions on race and identity to explore activities and lesson plans for middle school and high school classrooms.

To register call the front desk at The Wing. For more information, call 206.623-5124 ext 110. Registration fee is $30 (includes lunch). Receive 5 clock hours with $10 fee.


Thank you Big Freak Media for writing an Artist Spotlight on Me and my new show, KISS FEAR   You can read it here
Upcoming Exhibits:   
  • Like Mother at ArtXchange Gallery Seattle Feb 2-25 and at  Confluence Gallery in Twisp March 4-April 8
  • Art Beyond Conflict Bellingham March 3-May 28
  • Taking off the Gloves Solo show at ArtsEast Gallery, Issaquah, WA March 8-May 21
Current Exhibits: 
takingofftheglovesCurrently showing: KISS FEAR at BONFIRE Gallery, 603 S Main Street Seattle.  preview the show here
Artist Holly Ballard Martz, Poet Daemond Arrindell, and myself take an intimate look down the barrel – contemplating gun rights, the loss of life, and the search for healing in touching, powerful and sometimes darkly humorous ruminations on America’s weapon of choice.Pocandle-lightingetry, sculpture, video and performance meld to tell the saga of gun culture in the exhibit.  Candles are lit every Sunday to honor lives lost to gun violence that week.
Exhibit runs November 3, 2016 through January 28, 2017.
Three Graces at Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park, 2345 Blanche Way, Camano Island, WA


Past Exhibitions:
I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to collaborate with several scientists to learn more about the effects of Global Warming on salinity. The work, Silent Salinity, poetry and castings will be shown in Surge at Museum of Northwest Art, LaConner, WA September 2016.
salt castings

Silent Salinity: salt castings


Public DebMary Coss Artist - Bronze Busts & Skirtst to the Suffragette is being shown at Anacortes Arts Festival July 30 – August 7, and Artprize in Grand Rapids, MI September 21- October 9.

Thank you ACLU for my  Special Recognition Award at Artprize                  “Art to Change the World: Inspiring Social Justice”



Watch the installation video


Ubiquity  (castings, wirework and graphite drawing)
The Magnuson Park Gallery celebrates the month of Mother’s Day with an exhibit exploring the profound bonds between mothers and their children. Like Mother, curated by L. Kelly Lyles, includes multi cultural and mixed media works from 15 accomplished Seattle artists:
Lisa Myers Bulmash, MalPina Chan, Diem Chau, Mary Coss,
Susan Derrick, Marita Dingus, Maura Donegan, David Francis, Malayka Gormally, Deborah Faye Lawrence, L. Kelly Lyles, Holly Ballard Martz, Nia Michaels, Carol Milne, Joan Stuart Ross and Elana Winsberg. The exhibit will run through May 28 and the gallery is open Thurs – Fri 10 -3; Saturdays 12 – 5. 
SunajConcept_CossThrilled to be contracted with Security Properties in Seattle for a major interior installation. Thank you Bill Gaylord of Bonfire for bringing me in on the Janus Building residential project!   JANUS is the Roman God of beginnings and passages. I reversed the name and happily discovered SUNAJ  means portal.  My installation with projection and neon is based on this notion of Portal. All of the words written in wire by the umbrella handle/pencil are words about portals, entries, and exits. The building is on 85th near Greenwood. and will open this summer.   Above is a conceptual sketch of the project Sunaj.

Sculpture Northwest    Opening March 4th     The Contemporary Figure

DSC_0061with Crista Matteson, John Lucas and Ellen Kennelly

Artist Talk May 12

March 4-May 20, 2016

203 Prospect Street Bellingham, WA 98225


Mary Coss Vow

Traces at METHOD Gallery
November 5, 2015 through January 2, 2016
Artist’s public receptions:
1st Thursday Artwalk,  Nov 5th & Dec 3rd: 5-9pm
Artist’s Talk and Reception:
Wednesday, December 2nd  6-8pm
In my current work, I use a twist of forms, sound, and language to go on an archaeological dig of cultural inheritance. In this immersive installation, I explore a narrative around artifacts, customs, and the cultural remnants of life, using the form of a human bone as a relic to tell this story. Thank you Artist Trust for GAP grant support for this show.

The Frameworks Of Who I Am-detail with projectionAgentC Projects  October 23-December 18, 2015

I’m excited to show my body of work, Public Debt to the Suffragette, in this fabulous new exhibition space in Surrey, Vancouver BC.    “Using recognizable artifacts and images, the sociopolitical gestures of three artists demand pause and consideration. AgentC Gallery is pleased to present Seattle based artist Mary Coss, Vancouver based artist Monique Motut-Firth, and Charlene Vickers, an Anishinabe Kwe/Ojibway artist based in Vancouver.”
OPENING NIGHT | October 23, 7-10pm
ARTIST TALK | November 28, 2pm

| Thurs & Sat, 12-4pm
ADDRESS |  #108 -137 Street, Surrey, BC

Whorled Wide in “Like Mother”

The Gallery at City Hall  City of Shoreline            A Group Exhibition Curated by Kelly Lyles exploring the profound bond between
mothers and daughters

4th Floor Curatorial Space
October 29, 2015 – April 22, 2016
Regular Gallery Hours 9:00 – 5:00 M-F    17500 Midvale Ave N | Shoreline, WA

INTERSTATE: Where I-90 meets I-82


Sarah Spurgeon Gallery,  Central Washington University  Curated by Jennifer Navva Milliken, Curator of Craft at the Bellevue Arts Museum

November 5—December 6

MaryCrossVisual Biographies

This exhibit partners artists with the senior residents of The Lakeshore apartments to create a Visual Biography of the elder. My partner was Mary Cross.

After much confusion on our similar names, we had some great conversations resulting in her portrait: Mary Cross by Mary Coss hears Mary Cross

Reception Wednesday, September 16 4:30-6:30 pm
The Lakeshore  11448 Rainier Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98178    Runs through January 10

11224322_10153554286849711_8938084052254708568_nCollaborating with Richard Siken

In collaboration with Copper Canyon Press and Center on Contemporary Art, curator Joseph C. Roberts selected eleven visual artists to respond to the title poem in Richard Siken’s new and long awaited second book of poetry, War of the Foxes.

The Siken Collaboration features Siken-inspired art works and comments by artists Mary Coss, Nichole DeMent, David Francis, Tom Gehrig, Todd Horton, Richard Kehl, Judith Kindler, Wanda Pelayo, Cathy Sarkowsky, Leah Schrager, and Kate Vrijmoet.

You are… at Project 106 for the Seattle Art Fair

I’m proud to show with METHOD co-founders Paul D. McKee and Paula Stokes in the exhibit Origins                                                      

You Are ProductionIn Origins METHOD co-founders consider questions of self, genetics, and social identity. Where did we come from, how did we get here, and where are we going?

You are… is an ongoing project to create 100 babies. Each  has a barcode on its forehead with a randomly assigned occupation. You are explores the nature of destiny and questions the human hand involved in it.

Project 106 is in the same complex with METHOD Gallery, just down the hall

MAXIEhandsThank you                            Puffin Foundation!

Puffin have provided Grant Funding to pursue my project We Are Here.

This installation pairs glass castings of elderly women’s hands with audio recordings of their stories.

Past shows:

InertiaNEWYORK NOW! 015

I’m very excited to be invited by FACTORY-ART to be in the exhibit NEW YORK NOW! 015 in May during the Frieze NYC Art Fair week. My work Inertia will be included with an amazing line up of international artists.

Happy to be part of this Womens Caucus for Art showVoices: An Artist’s Perspective curated by Karen Gutfreund and

TEXTure    Great fun curating and working with amazing artists and poets! The exhibit at METHOD Gallery and the event at Seattle Central Library were thought provoking, beautiful, and challenging. If you missed it you can see the event here or hear the podcast of the artist talk and poetry reading  here.  Thank you Office of Arts & Culture and Department of Neighborhoods for supporting the project with generous grant funding.    updateCongratulations to artists Cedar Mannan and Lia Hall who showed in the TEXTure Exhibit. They’ve won the quarterly City Arts Artwalk Award for Spring 2015! well deserved for beautiful work!

 March Art Walk '15
My students at Antioch are exhibiting their work from this semester’s class Intro to Socially Engaged Art.   It will be up until April 3rd, come by!
Thanks Artist Trust for hosting my installation at the Auction!

Thank you Artist Trust for my GAP Grant!

I’ve received funding for art materials and  assistance with audio recording at Jack Straw for my upcoming installation “Eventualities” at METHOD Gallery, November 2015.


Thrilled to be curating at METHOD Gallery!TEXTure partners diverse writers with visual artists to  provoke, incite, compel,and inspire new artwork, exploring the rich intersection between language and visual art. In this collaboration, visual artists embrace the written word to create new work while poets reinvent ekphrastic writing in response.

Sherman Alexie with Lia Hall and Cedar Mann of Noble Neon, Daemond Arrindell with Maura Donegan, Carol Milne with Jeannine Gailey Hall.  Artist Talk and Readings of New Work January 29th 6pm Seattle Central Library. Reception METHOD Gallery January 29th 7-9pm and First Thursdays January 8th and February 5th. Exhibit runs January 8- February 21, 2015.

Reimagining Femmage  Inertia_sm

Feb 20 – April 3, 2015       Foundry Art Centre  Juried by Lisa Melandri, the Executive Director of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Inspired by feminist artist Miriam Schapiro,  Reimagining Femmage invites the artist to draw upon the tenets she established. Schapiro is a Canadian who created art with materials traditionally relating to women’s lives and skills such as embroidery and quilting. She coined this art style with the term ‘femmage’ and is credited for establishing the Pattern and Decoration movement.

October 18-November 20
Three graces have been reinvented and now stands in the pools at Tollefson Plaza in Tacoma.

As part of Metal-Urge, Tacoma’s city-wide celebration of the metal arts, Two Ravens Studio & Art Foundry is having a “Made In Metal” Show October 4- November 20. I am pleased to be a featured artist in this group show with metal art ranging from to cast metal sculptures to hand forged works and armory, inspired by the theme of “protection”.

Two Ravens Studio & Art Foundry
2502 Commerce St. Tacoma


CoCA Members’ Show: Who Are You?  

The Frameworks Of Who I Am-detail with projection

Artists’ Reception

Thursday, September 18, 5-9pm

CoCA Georgetown Gallery

5701 6th Ave S | Seattle Design Center, Suite P258
hours Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm.

Center on Contemporary Art      Sept 18- Nov 7, 2014

Bellwether 2014: Connect    

“Blood and Water” at Downtown Park in the pond-  Sculpture with sound

Bellevue Arts  Jun 27 2014 – Oct 12 2014     

bellwether 2014  I plotted the emigrant points of my lineage on a map and found that most of my family lived near the coastline. Water has guided my personal moves from the great lakes to the east coast to the west coast. Finding this commonality with centuries of ancestors inspired the poem, which drove the form of the shell sculpture, Blood and Water. The poem  is recorded in four voices, dialects from my ancestral countries, layered with the sound of waves crashing. 

Heaven & Earth VI: As Above, So Below    

DNA planta genética, nurselog

Site Specific Art in the urban forest of Carkeek Park   

“DNA planta genética” can be found in the meadow near the Environmental Learning Center 

The artwork has transformed into a nurse log. Read more about it here.

Center on Contemporary Art      

July 12-October 20 2014

Who Did She Think She Was?

She Asked for It (argon light) August 2-26                   TK Corridor Gallery     In the last 100 years we have made tremendous strides in reproductive freedom for women. But recent events, like the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, attempt to turn back the clock and resist access and funding for birth control and reproductive health care. This show represents 28 artists and their individual responses to this issue. -Ellen Hochberg, curator

Boundaries: a group exhibit

You Are A Teacher“You Are” at Twilight Gallery

4306 SW Alaska St. Seattle

Aug 14th – Sept 3rd, 2014

You Are is an ongoing project to create 100 castings of molded paper babies, with each emerging being randomly assigned a code, a future, a fate. This curious inventory exchanges DNA coding for bar coding to explore the nature of destiny and question the human hand involved in it.

Heaven & Earth VI: As Above, So Below    

Heaven and Earth: As Above, So Below

Heaven and Earth: As Above, So Below

Site Specific Art in the urban forest of Carkeek Park   

“DNA planta genética” can be found in the meadow near the Environmental Learning Center 

Center on Contemporary Art      

July 12-October 20 2014

The Meaning of Wood

April 7- May 2

Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts

S Puget Sound Community College     2011 Mottman Road SW  Olympia WA 98512

Songlines  My personal Ancestral Songline is akin to an Aboriginal Songline that marks the route that was followed by the creator beings. Mine is marked by my lineage. The names of over 400 direct  ancestors are scribed into the bone, a first rib of the human ribcage.

 Japanese Red Pine with worm marking that resemble petroglyphs.

Japanese Red Pine with worm marking that resemble petroglyphs.

You can read the curators statement and see a slide show of the artwork here.

Public Debt to the Suffragette       



Artist Talk:    January 23rd 6pm  Reception 5-8

Exhibit runs January 2- February 15, 2014


Images of the Homeland  January 14- February 7

Images of the Homeland poster

North Seattle Community College Art Gallery

Inspired from nostalgia or situations of circumstance, this diverse artwork reflects on identity and our relationship to our homeland roots.

I am honored to curate this show with these amazing artists:

Sabah Al-Dhaher,  Juan Alonso-Rodríguez, Jasmine Iona Brown, MalPina Chan, Mary Coss,  Maura DoneganAkiko Jackson,  and  Carletta Carrington Wilson.

North Seattle Community College Art Gallery    9600 College Way N, Seattle, WA

Hours: Mon/Fri 11-3,    Tues/Wed/Thurs 11-8

Public Debt to the Suffragette

January 2- February 15, 2014 One Person show at METHOD in Seattle
Artist Reception First Thursdays: Jan 2nd and Feb 6th 5-8                                               Artist Talk January 23rd 6 pm  Reception 5-8
The Frameworks Of Who I Am-detail with projectionIn The Frameworks of Who I Am, I’ve created embellished lingerie from window screen and combined these with umbrella parts to create a small army of figurative work. They reflect cascading projections of both suffragettes and nostalgic portraits of the women from my family, my personal debt to the Suffragette.  Through my naked thoughts I ask you to reconsider a larger conversation about gender and life.

Images of the Homeland

North Seattle Community College; January 14- Feb 7, 2014
Curated group show       January 14 Artist Talk: 5pm Reception 6-8pm
I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to cufloatrate this dynamic exhibit!   Inspired from nostalgia or issues of identity, this artwork reflects on cultural inheritance and the homeland roots of the artists featured.Akiko Jackson. Carletta Carrington Wilson, Jasmine Iona Brown, Juan Alonso-Rodriguez, MalPina Chan, Maura Donnegan, Sabah Al-Dhaher and myself
From the Depths

Cast Bronze

 From The Depths

“Art Convergence “
Port Angeles Fine Arts Center
Nov 14- Jan 10


For Margaret Sanger’s FaithM Sanger's Faith

Stories We Tell” a catalog of women’s art juried by Jessica Porter, Owner Porter Contemporary, NYC

The published work portrays the tradition of visual storytelling through women’s voices.




“Curves and Lineal Tales”

EDGE at the Corridor Gallery

306 South Washington Street

October 3-31


Layers of the HijWing Museum Installationab
Under My Skin

Installation with Light and Sound
May 10 – November 17
The Wing  –
Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience
719 King Street, Seattle

Exhibit explores race in the 21st century


The Meaning of Wood
Jul 22 – Aug 21, reception July 22
Lower Columbia College Art Gallery
Longview, WA

My personal Ancestral Songline is akin to an Aboriginal Songline that marks the route that was followed by the creator beings. Mine is marked by my lineage. The names of over 400 direct  ancestors are scribed into the bone, a first rib of the human ribcage.

An exhibit that goes beyond sentimental tree portraits into the significance of trees, the role they play in our ecology and reflecting on consequences and fate. At Lower Columbia College. Artwork under construction is a rib bone with the names of my ancestors burnt into it.

Shell in the woods

Descendant   Blood & Water                                    Museum of Sound
Art and Nature Festival
August 10th & 11th
Camp Long 5200 35th Ave SW, Seattle

A two-day festival in the woods. I will be installing a sound installation, Descendant, in one of the cabins with my shell installation, Blood and Water, in the woods.

In the Museum of Sound: Descendant is part of my ongoing research into cultural inheritance. The installation is a metaphor of generations through time, an ancestral journey along the waterways.

In the Woods, an Installation: Blood and Water  I plotted the emigrant points of my lineage on a map and found that most of my family lived near the coastline. Water has guided my personal moves from the great lakes to the east coast to the west coast. Finding this commonality with centuries of ancestors inspired the poem, which drove the form of the shell sculpture, Blood and Water. The poem  is recorded in four voices, dialects from my ancestral countries, layered with the sound of waves crashing.

PastedGraphic-198118 Melting Pod
ArtWalk Rainier Beach
September 7, 2013
Rainier Ave S between S Henderson Street andSeward Park Ave S in Seattle.

This project has been put on hold due to funding.

This is a 4′ ice sculpture of a Staghorn Sumac pod embedded with cultural icons from the communities living within the 98118 zip code. 98118 was the most diverse zip code in the US in the last census and is the site of the ArtWalk.

Blood and water in studio


Blood and Water
Sneak Peek
Installation with Light and Sound
through June 15th
Method Gallery
106 Third Ave S

Come visit our new Exhibition Space!                                 June 6th First Thursday
hours Fridays and Saturdays 12-5

Layers of the Hijab

Layers of the Hijab, featuring artwork by Mary Coss with students from the Cleveland High School East African Girls Art Workshop.

This exhibit explores the complexities of East African girls navigating multiple cultures. The girls will be participating in a Panel Discussion at the gallery on Thursday, March 14, at 7pm. This exhibit and panel discussion were sponsored, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts. The project is sponsored by Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs.

The Artists’ Reception is on Saturday, March 9, 5 – 8pm.
Exhibit: March 6 – April 21, 2013
Columbia City Gallery, 4864 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle, WA 98118
This event is free and open to the public

For Margaret Sanger's FaithFor Margaret Sanger’s Faith
2013 Women’s Works
March 7 – April 28
The 26th Annual exhibit celebrating Women’s creativity at the Old Courthouse Arts Center in Woodstock, IL.