Meet the Mankers, HOTA recipients

EDITOR’S NOTE: Naturally, all of us at Broome Arts Mirror are very excited about the upcoming Heart of the Arts celebration on Sept. 19. To help you join in on the excitement, BAMirror has been featuring brief Q&As with our honorees. Today, our conversation is with Toby Jean and Harold Manker, recipients of a 2016 Heart of the Arts Award. HOTA recipients are honored for significant recent contributions to and impact on the arts in Broome County. They are nominated by the community and voted upon by the arts council membership. (Coming Sept. 14: HOTA winner Emily Jablon.)

By Barb Van Atta

Harold and Toby Jean MankerAs program directors of the Phelps Mansion Museum, 191 Court St., Binghamton, Toby Jean and Harold Manker have brought a wide variety of events to the former Monday Afternoon Club in Binghamton over the years, from a chamber music series and a cooperative concert effort with the Binghamton University Music Department to a Chinese New Year celebration and a Downton Abbey preview. However, they were specifically nominated for their diligent and successful accomplishment in registering and chartering the Phelps as a “house museum” in compliance with the New York State Board of Regents.

They also had significant input, as Chair and Vice Chair of the museum board, into the strategic planning of the museum and the recruitment of the executive director and numerous volunteers and docents, while raising funds through grant writing.

Through email, BAMirror asked the Mankers the following questions, which Toby Jean responded to with Harold’s input:

What was your reaction to learning that you were recipients?

Both Harold and I were surprised, really surprised. We don’t really know how we were nominated, and we were certain that we would not win. When we actually got the call, we were deeply honored that people, real people, had actually voted for a couple of “behind the scenes” workers. We are extremely grateful.

HOTA awards are given to people whose recent efforts have advanced the arts in Broome County.  What are your future plans for the Phelps? 

We want to continue our efforts to bring quality public programs to the Phelps Mansion Museum.  Of course, there are others who deserve credit and because we cannot continue as long as we hope the mansion stands, we plan to cultivate a climate where others will continue. Our organization needs a continuum of dedicated people. We hope some of you will join us.

What do you see as the strong points of the arts community in Broome? How about the arts audience?

The strong points of the arts community are the amazing number of artists and the tenacity of the performers and artists who keep producing with or without rewards. Organizations such as TCO, the Binghamton Philharmonic, Madrigal Choir and the several theater groups are what kept Harold and me here after we retired from our “day jobs.” We were always nourished by our participation in all these venues. All of us need to do what we can to build audiences.

What can be improved or expanded in the arts community? How can we attract a greater audience?

It seems of late that program scheduling has become more difficult due to a very good thing, so many of them. I know that the Broome County Arts Council does its part by publishing a calendar online, but many concerts and performances are competing with each other for the same audience, the numbers of which are diminished by a shrinking population. We need to examine ways to balance opportunity and support so that the strong cultural force in this community can thrive.

In order to attract a greater audience, I think we need to break down the territorial nature of some organizations.

Can you speak a bit to the concepts of collaborating with other organizations (fellow artists, businesses, etc.) and to serving the underserved in the community? 

We are all in this together, and our enthusiasm for the arts should be broad. We should support each other, speak well of each other, and create a positive environment. Also, we all should consider more education. Exposing the very young in what it is like to play an instrument, be an actor, paint, sculpt, etc. has its rewards, and I think we should put half of our cultural energy into this. Young people are the future. Harold and I have seen how this can work in the example of our own children.

Do you have a dream project?

Aside from just making the Phelps Mansion Museum sustainable, our dream project is to see the Phelps provide more opportunities for younger people. We are very interested in an already-developed model in New Haven, Conn., called Music Haven, a non-profit organization offering free lessons as well as instruments to underprivileged children. It is the basic premise that we love, and it could be done in any of the arts. We would love to begin it on a small scale at the Phelps. One of the performers who will play for our chamber music concert series, Colin Benn, is part of Music Haven. Come and meet him on Nov. 13, 2016.

Remember, the Heart of the Arts Ceremony, celebrating the movers, creators and lovers of the arts in Broome County, will be 6 p.m. Sept. 19 in the grand ballroom of the DoubleTree by Hilton, 245 Water St., Binghamton. The gala event will feature dinner, performances and art displays. For tickets and more information about both the celebration and the HOTA art raffle, visit www.broomearts.org/hota.

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