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animals when I was growing up in the
boondocks on a farm in Constableville in
upstate New York. But I didn't know you
could make a living at it," said Arabas.
"Originally," she continued, "I wanted
to become a veterinarian. But a drawing
class and wonderful mentoring from my
professors changed my mind." After
graduating in 1979, she applied to several
art schools for her master of fine arts degree.
She received a full scholarship to the School
of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, moved
to Massachusetts in 1979 and has never
looked back.
Prior to becoming a full-time professor
at Middlesex in 2000, she taught as an
adjunct at MCC, as an assistant professor
at North Shore Community College, and as
a botanical drawing instructor at the Arnold
Arboretum of Harvard University. She also
worked as a master printer at Hand Press
Workshop in the Brickbottom artist
complex in Somerville.
Her impressive resume includes numerous
grants from the National Endowment for
the Arts, the National Endowment for the
Humanities, the Massachusetts Cultural
Council, and the MCC Foundation.
One of her favorite grant-funded projects
was the Murkland School Alphabet
Project, created in 2011 with a Massachusetts
Cultural Council grant, through the
Cultural Organization of
Lowell (COOL). The collaboration began
when Arabas met a Murkland teacher as
part of a U.S. Department of Education
Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad for
local educators to study in Cambodia.
"The teacher told me a lot of Murkland
kids come from Cambodian families who
don't speak English, so the children often
have trouble learning alphabet sounds,"
said Arabas. That sparked the idea for
Arabas to challenge her "Electronic Imaging"
students to design letters of the alphabet,
incorporating culturally diverse pictures
drawn by Murkland students. The colorful,
moveable alphabet was laminated and now
hangs in a corridor at the school and is
used by reading teachers.
"Everyone benefited," said Arabas. "My
students met the Murkland kids and realized
their task was to design something for real
children. Murkland students learned the
alphabet, and the school now has an artwork
and a teaching tool," she said.
It's a similar story with the permanent art
collection Arabas is assembling for the
college. The nascent collection includes
seven pieces of original artwork, including
several she purchased with a stipend from
"Artists should help make
their communities better.
I like doing that by working
on outreach and
real-world projects."
Jan Arabas
Professor of Art
the Fulbright-Hays trip to Cambodia,
plus two ceramic vessels by Yary Livan, a
master Cambodian ceramic artist who lives
in Lowell and also teaches at Middlesex
"I received an MCC Foundation grant
to have the artwork framed and to buy
professional display cases. I'd love to
expand the collection to include more
pieces for a teaching collection," she said.
The institutional encouragement to build a
college art collection, create an International
Film Series, and craft special design projects
that benefit the community is what Arabas
enjoys most about MCC. "I work with great
people and we have a full cross-section of
students. Middlesex has been good to me
and I am very happy here."
Nancye Tuttle
LEFT: A professional printmaker, Arabas creates prints in her Melrose studio. Shown here: "The Sky is Falling in Wonderland." RIGHT: Arabas discusses the
printing process with a student in a "Printmaking" course.