COMPAS Celebrates 40 YEARS of Integrating Art Making and Education Throughout Minnesota

Joan Linck, COMPAS Development and Marketing Manager


Musician T. Mychael Rambo Emcees Public Anniversary Celebration, May 2nd, Aboard the University of Minnesota Centennial Showboat

St. Paul, Minnesota (April 23, 2014)– COMPAS (Community Programs in the Arts), the longest running and most comprehensive arts education program in Minnesota, celebrates its 40th Anniversary.   The venerable nonprofit has been bringing professional artists into communities to engage people in hands-on art creation for the past four decades.  

The milestone anniversary kicks off with a public celebration aboard the University of Minnesota Centennial Showboat at Harriet Island, St. Paul, on Friday, May 2nd at 6:00 p.m.  The event, emceed by actor, musician, and long-time COMPAS roster artist T Mychael Rambo, includes a cocktail party with silent auction, followed by an Artists’ Showcase featuring Rambo and other COMPAS artists including spoken-word artist Kyle “Guante” Tran Myre, dancer Alanna Morris-Van Tassel, and musician Charlie Maguire. 

Since the organization’s inception in 1974, Minnesotans, from Kindergartners to the elderly, have tapped their creativity, powered their imaginations and enhanced their knowledge and learning with the guidance of professional COMPAS artists.  Program participants have learned about other cultures through creating and performing ethnic dance pieces. In language arts classes, youth have discovered how small the leap is between rapping and penning poetry. And in Science, bird migration took on deeper, multidimensional meaning when professional artists worked with students to envision and craft bird puppets from recycled materials.

The Genesis

COMPAS is the long-lived result of a pioneering partnership forged in 1968 between the National Endowment for the Arts and Molly (LaBerge) Taylor, the then-volunteer director of the Walker Art Center’s music program.  With a $10,000 grant from the NEA and $10,000 raised in matching funds, Taylor launched Poets in the Schools, sending contemporary professional poets such as Garrison Keillor, Robert Bly, Galway Kinnell (winner of the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry), and Donald Hall (2006-2007 United States Poet Laureate) into schools as in-classroom guides and mentors.  The poets taught students how to express themselves through verse and inspired them to take their creative writing skills to the next level.

“Molly Taylor was well ahead of her time.  Without her vision, her tenacity and her creativity, COMPAS would have never blossomed into what it is today,” says COMPAS Executive Director Dawne Brown White.

Poet John Caddy (2012 McKnight Minnesota Artist of the Year) remembers that first year of going into classrooms. “It was a heady time. We were paid $100 a day. Incredible! None of us had ever made that kind of money in poetry.” He also remembers being thrown out of the old Minneapolis West High School because he wore a beard, confirming administration’s concerns that poets like Caddy were “anti-establishment”.

Growth and Expansion

In the years following the program’s inception, the organization grew to offer programs across Minnesota, broadening its in-school poetry offerings to include dance, theater, visual arts, music and more, taking programs into communities across the state.  Expanded programs reached ever-wider audiences up to the present day inclusion of arts education programs not only for tens of thousands of Minnesota school children each year, but also for seniors, people in hospitals or homeless shelters, civic groups and communities statewide.  Wherever there’s a desire to explore creativity, self-expression, other cultures and new ideas, COMPAS programs offer professional artists to guide the process.

  • COMPAS offers artists’ programs, ranging from 1 hour to months long (the typical residency is 5 days with an artist) that allow the visual, musical, literary and performing arts to be integrated into Minnesota elementary, middle and high school curricula.
  • Residencies are available to schools and community groups throughout the state, affording more than 34,000 youth each year the opportunity to work side-by-side with their peers and a professional on-site artist.
  • COMPAS’ programs are comprised of multiple components offering an in-depth arts experience that teach professional art techniques appropriate to any group’s ability or age.
  • COMPAS programs have received national recognition for excellence by organizations such as the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
  • COMPAS offers participatory programs in art forms ranging from the historic (e.g. dances of the Aztecs, Carnatic music from South India) to the modern (spoken word, zines).
  • COMPAS roster artists present more than 700 workshops and performances each year, from Roseau to Rochester and beyond.

COMPAS at 40

Today, COMPAS boasts an impressive 100 individual and ensemble artists in their roster from which educators may select for in-class residencies or performances. Names of independent artists like musicians T. Mychael Rambo and Aimee Bryant pop up alongside those of painters, poets and even puppeteers. Dancers, actors and visual artists round out the comprehensive list.

Cheryl Strayed, the New York Times Best Selling author of “Wild”, credits the COMPAS artists who worked with her in her Macgregor, Minn., classrooms with teaching her to write and inspiring her to become an author. “COMPAS played a really essential role in my own journey to become a writer. The poets and writers who came via the COMPAS program offered me my first role models as writers and they gave me opportunities to do the thing I loved to do the most.”

COMPAS Executive Director, Dawne Brown White points out, “Studies consistently show that arts education fosters not only creativity, but contributes significantly to success in both academic environments and social interactions, as well as in expanding one’s understanding of the world and the cultures around them.”

“How honored we are to match professional artists with communities to provide that arts education to more than 50,000 Minnesotans each year.  We’ve done it for the past forty years and look forward to continued growth and expansion over the next forty.”


Friday, May 2, 2014, at 6:00 p.m.
University of Minnesota Centennial Showboat
Harriet Island, St. Paul

Tickets: $75. May be purchased online at  or by calling 651-292-3203.  Tickets also available at the door.

Members of the media are welcome to interview, film and photograph COMPAS artists, guests and supporters at this ticketed, public event celebrating the organization’s 40th Anniversary.  Event begins at 6:00 p.m. with cocktails, appetizers and an auction.  At 8:00 p.m. attendees will be treated to the Artists Showcase, featuring performances by several notable COMPAS artists.


Visits to schools to attend a COMPAS artist’s residency may be scheduled by appointment. 

Additionally, COMPAS staff is happy to coordinate interviews with COMPAS roster artists; teachers and school administrators statewide, as well as with COMPAS board members or founder Molly (LaBerge) Taylor.

For additional information, to schedule a school visit or to arrange interviews, please contact Joan Linck at or 651-292-3203.


COMPAS By the Numbers
COMPAS Historical Timeline

COMPAS receives generous support from Minnesota State Arts Board, 3M, Target, Travelers, US Bancorp, Ecolab, General Mills, Patrick & Aimee Butler Foundation, Fred. C. and Katherine B. Andersen Foundation, Hubbard Foundation, Hugh J. Andersen Foundation, Huss Foundation, Lillian Wright & C Emil Berglund Foundation, Margaret Rivers Fund, Proehler/ Stremel Charitable Trust, R. C. Lilly Foundation, RBC Wealth Management, DSW, Dye Foundation, Securian Financial Group, Minneapolis Foundation: Smith-McCarthy Funds, James R. Thorpe Foundation, William Boss Foundation.  We are also grateful to the many individual donors who help make these programs possible each year.