Social Practice and Community Arts

 Young Women’s Empowerment

Layers of the Hijab is a three-year project of immersion into the world of teenage East African girls. We collaborated to create visual artwork and poetry that was exhibited in a gallery, along with poetry reading and an artist panel discussion. Through the workshop, the girls developed strong voices and clarity on navigating the multiple cultures and roles in their lives. They shared their ideas and process with the community in an engaging discussion where they educated the greater community on the hijab. In the following year, I created wire portraits of the girls that were part of a sound installation.

The Colors We Wear germinated from the Layers of the Hijab project where previous participants suggested that the project continue with younger East African teenage girls making scarves. In the third phase of the workshops we dyed silk and made scarves. At the Artist Panel, the young women shared their art, talked about the artistic process, the significance of scarves, and offered scarf wearing advice.

Senior Cultural Sharing

Women’s Art and Culture Workshop is a partnership with the Senior Housing Assistance Group that provides senior women a creative outlet for self-reflection, advocacy, and community building around topics that are relevant to the cultural complexities of their lives. This diverse group includes a community of African American and Immigrant women. The aim of this partnership is to offer a practical exploration as to how the arts can be used by the women to create powerful individual and communal transformations on their own terms. You can view a video of the project here.

The Sacred You and Me Mosaic and Audio is an arts and culture workshop where teaching artists and elderly women aged 65-95 from varying faiths and ethnic backgrounds meet weekly to share experiences, cultures, and stories that are expressed through art making. Many had never spoken before with a woman from another culture. The partaking of food, holiday traditions, and crafts turned into a heartfelt sharing of life’s turning points and one’s deepest held secrets.

Urban Youth

SouthEast Effective Development (SEED) is a non-profit, community development organization whose mission is to strengthen and revitalize southeast Seattle neighborhoods through its three program areas of economic development, arts and culture, and affordable housing. Its SEED’s Arts Programs enriches the lives of area residents through art and culture. Through this program, SEEDArts Public Art Workshop (PAWs) was developed by Mary Coss, which engages urban youth from Southeast Seattle in art making outside of school. All of the resident sites are section 8 housing with a diverse population.  You can read more about SEEDArts here.

  • Lilac Lodge is owned and managed by SEED. Residents and Cleveland High School students collaborated with Mary Coss and Sarah Fansler to fabricate and install several public artworks including several sculptures, a mosaic walkway, signage, raised garden walls, and a trellis.
  • Findlay Sanctuary is a pocket park in Southeast Seattle. Mary Coss and Sultan Mohamed led workshops with local middle school youth installing public art on the site over a course of five years. Art included a cast bronze eagle inlay, metal fabricated birds on a wire, bird and bat houses, and mosaic signage.
  • Tree of Hope and Knowledge is located at a transitional housing residence called Katherine’s Place. Working with local high school students, Mary Coss and Sarah Fansler led the project that includes an extensive mosaic of a tree imbedded with clay masks of the participating students, and yards of forged vines with leaves. The work celebrates the legacy of St. Katherine.
  • Children are a Window to the World is a collaborative project between resident children, poet, sculptor Sabah Al Dhaher and Mary Coss at Katherine’s Place. The children carved and cast poems and images in bronze. These were inlaid in granite sculptures that the students carved into.
  • Memoir Mosaic is a SEEDArts Youth Art Residency summer program where ten resident teens assisted lead artists Mary Coss and Sultan Mohammed with the design and fabrication of a giant clay mosaic for a park plaza at the Rainier Vista housing community. The design concept is that of rings of a tree trunk, with each ring representing a decade in the ninety-year history of the site. Using lettering stamps and freehand, students imprinted the historical statements they gathered through research and interviews conducted during the workshop.

Hit the Streets is a program of Coyote Central. Underserved youth from Central and South Seattle are hired to make public art for their community in this summer work program. Every summer 24 adolescents aged 12-14 work with a team of professional public artists to create art for a neighborhood park, garden, street corner, or vacant lot. You can learn more about the Hit The Streets program here.     Mary Coss was lead artist and project designer on the following projects.

  • Fantasy Bicycle is a metal sculpture made of recycled mechanical parts and built by youth in the summer of 2012 to provide a street front presence for the Coyote Shop that does welding, woodworking and bicycle building.
  • Cherry Street Fence features steel panels interspersed with carved wooden totem elements and twisted steel bars that comprise a 42′ fence along the southeastern border of Coyote Central’s campus at 23rd & Cherry. This project was in partnership with Starbucks.
  • Seeds of Jazz celebrates the neighborhood’s rich jazz tradition through a series of enameled seed-shaped panels with cast aluminum leaves. These gateway seeds are mounted on the fence of a thriving p-patch across the street from Washington Hall, the site of several historic jazz performances. These seeds trace the history of jazz music in Seattle and represent gestation, growth, and the blossoming of ideas and improvisation.

Photos of the projects are here