Inside the COMPAS Studio with Marlaine Cox


Welding master, pie baker, and lover of vintage clothes. Mix it all together and you have our Arts Program Manger Marlaine Cox! Get to know more about her in an all new Inside the COMPAS Studio.

What’s one of your favorite parts about working at COMPAS?

I really love going on site visits to senior centers where COMPAS Teaching Artists are doing the vital work of bringing high-quality arts programming to the community. While on the site visits I see the artistic process in action, spend time with the Teaching Artists and get to know the participants and site staff. I love witnessing the point where the magic happens: I get to see participants take creative chances, explore new art forms and make meaningful social connections. Yay!

Who are some of your artistic inspirations?

The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia

The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia

I am a life-long admirer of vernacular (outsider/visionary) artists who create site-specific installations, often in their homes and yards. Many outsider artists have no formal art training but are driven by the need to tinker and create singular environments of wonder. I love the visionary artists’ innovative use of found objects and everyday materials to create weird and beautiful objects and spaces. A few of my favorites are Jim Reinders’ Carhenge in Nebraska, The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia in Los Angeles, Mary Nohl’s house outside Milwaukee and Fred Smith’s Concrete Park in Phillips, WI. Occasional road trips to The Kohler Arts Center, a shrine of vernacular art, make me very happy.

You’re an artist too! Tell us a little about your art form?

In my sculptural practice, I construct small assemblages using welded metal and found objects, where I explore the intersections between art and craft and utility. In my social practice work I often collaborate with community participants using everyday tasks as vehicles for interactions; baking pies, gardening, sewing, screen printing, cooking, canning, etc. As an artist I’m intensely interested in the perceived values of objects (utility, art, craft) and work (housework, blue collar labor).


It’s been said you’re a lover of vintage clothing. Any favorite pieces that you can’t live without?

I have a 1960’s navy suede jacket that I found years ago at a vintage shop near Lake and Lyndale. While it’s not very practical for long Minnesota winters, on clear days in the spring and fall, I wear it every chance I get.

Other than our Teaching Artists, have you met anyone famous?

Polar explorer and educator Ann Bancroft spoke at my UMN commencement ceremony. While I was on stage in the very long line of Liberal Arts majors I stepped out of the queue and veered over to where Ann was sitting. I introduced myself, shook her hand and said “Thanks for kicking **s!” I’ve always admired her courage, her amazing leadership skills and her knack for shattering female stereotypes.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“You just love ‘em” - Parenting advice from my mother who had dementia; she didn’t really know who I was at that point. To her I was a friendly visitor who helped with chores. My oldest son, Henry, was 3 at the time and we were visiting her at Walker Methodist on the locked dementia unit. Within two minutes he had pulled clothes out of her closet, spit out a half-chewed cookie on her bedspread and put a small rock in his mouth. As I was digging the rock out of his mouth, in desperation I asked my mom “What do I do with this child?!” Her response to ‘just love ‘em’ was so wise, simple and subversively funny. There was no tactical plan, no magic bullet, no parenting book solution. I loved how her advice had nothing to do with fixing the situation and everything to do with changing my mindset. Genius!

2019 is just around the corner. YIKES. Any New Year’s aspirations? Resolutions are too committal, let’s be honest.

Every year my aspirations are the same: be kind, be patient, have a sense of humor, cook good food and spend more time in nature. That’s it!