Aranka Matolcsy, the new executive director of Mahoosuc Arts Council, was literally born into the arts.

Both her parents were artists and teachers imparting their passions to Aranka as early as she can remember. Her mother, Claire Couri Matolcsy, was a modern dancer who studied with Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey. Her father, Lajos Matolcsy, was a professor of fine arts at the Royal Hungarian Academy.

Arriving in the United States in the 1950s, her parents fell in love with rural western Maine and that love affair became a natural part of Aranka’s inheritance.

While he restored a 150-year-old farm on the border of Paris and Sumner, Lajos founded the Western Maine Art Group in 1962, the original sponsor of Norway’s Sidewalk Art Festival. Patterned after Portland’s show, it is the second longest running show of its kind in Maine.

“My parents made everything magical and exciting for my brother and me whether it was growing vegetables or creating pictures,” recalled Aranka.

Music, art and dance lessons were at the center of Aranka’s childhood along with exposure to many creative people, like Tony Montanaro, founder of the South Paris Mime Theater, who moved to Maine in 1972 after visiting her parents for years.

As she approached adulthood, Aranka became interested in the flute and was accepted into a music performance program at the University of Southern Maine before graduating from high school. In 1990, she earned a degree in classical flute performance from Boston’s Conservatory of Music.

Although Aranka was research director for an international publishing company in Boston for a period and spent 10 years in Colorado learning how to blow glass and traverse mountains on telemark skis, she says Maine was never far from her heart – and she always thought of it as home.

Coming back to assist with the 2006 Norway Summer Festival because Lajos Matolcsy was the focus of the festival, Aranka felt a calling to help revitalize WMAG. “I had a great life in Colorado, but I was concerned about my father’s legacy and it hit me that Maine was where I could make a real difference,” said Aranka.

Contributing to the cultural community of western Maine is of prime importance to Aranka. “It started as a personal cultural crusade, but I’ve worked or interacted with so many people now who were impacted by my father, and it’s made a profound difference in my life to be back here. Lots of challenges, but incredibly rewarding. I’m very grateful to be living here,” she said.

So are a lot of artists. Despite the economic downturn, WMAG’s membership is growing and, under Aranka’s leadership, awareness of the arts in western Maine has grown as well.

As she begins her duties with the Mahoosuc Arts Council, Aranka said she couldn’t be more thrilled. “This organization has played such a vital part in the lives of thousands of students by bringing theater, dance, music and visual arts into the community and the schools for the past 20 years. The greater Bethel community ‘gets it’ about the need for arts education. I couldn’t ask for a better position.”

A self-described “relentless arts advocate,” Aranka finds her new situation an exciting honor.

As for the future of the creative economy in a rural landscape during an economic downturn, Aranka believes that arts education is not a mere addition to an academic program, but essential to student preparation.

“Arts education is critical to the future of every student preparing to enter the modern workforce,” she said. “Whether or not a student wishes to pursue a creative profession, the skill set of today’s world includes creative thinking, innovation, social dexterity and ingenuity – all of which are facilitated through arts education. The next generation needs arts education to be competitive in the global marketplace.”

“We have an opportunity to identify this region as arts-oriented. If we make that a goal, we can open the flood gates to arts-related tourism, education and enterprise. When we couple that with the exquisite natural beauty we’re already known for, we have an ideal combination for a viable and sustainable creative economy,” Aranka said.

Toni Seger is the founder of Western Maine Cultural Alliance. She has worked with Aranka Matolcsy as an artist and as an arts administrator.


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