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New gallery adds to Pittsburgh's East End art scene

An artist rendering of a building.
Tomayko Foundation
An artist's rendering of the new Tomayko Foundation galleries, opening Friday in Bloomfield.

This is WESA Arts, a weekly newsletter by Bill O'Driscoll providing in-depth reporting about the Pittsburgh area art scene. Sign up here to get it every Wednesday afternoon.

It’s pretty rare that a whole new permanent art gallery appears in Pittsburgh. But this week, one will open on one of the city’s busiest commercial corridors.

The renovated single-story building on the 5100 block of Liberty Avenue, in Bloomfield, is the flagship space for the Tomayko Foundation, launched in 2015 to nurture “individual creativity through education and the arts.” The nonprofit gallery opens with “Commence,” an Associated Artists of Pittsburgh group show featuring 14 artists addressing themes of beginnings, history and nostalgia.

The foundation was created by John R. Tomayko, a local health care entrepreneur. Tomayko, according to a press release from the foundation, is a long-time art collector whose ties to the local scene include currently serving on the boards for both Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Fine Arts and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. (He’s also on Point Park University’s board of trustees and the board of Pitt’s School of Education.)

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Executive director Nina Friedman said the foundation focuses on making small grants, like recent awards to Contemporary Craft to support individual artists for exhibitions in 2024, 2025 and 2026.

Now there’s the gallery. At 3,400 square feet, it’s commodious, with two exhibition spaces. In large part, the former medical building will be a showcase for Tomayko’s own collection. One of the two galleries, in fact, will display only works by Frank Mason, the late, New York-based classical realist painter who first inspired Tomayko to collect art.

However, the other gallery will show work by other artists from Tomayko’s collection, and most of them are alive and local.

They include such names as abstract sculptor Atticus Adams, collage artist Gavin Benjamin, and painters Clayton Merrell, Ron Donoghue, Chuck Olson, Mia Tarducci, Joyce Werwie Perry and Robert Qualters.

Friedman said that second gallery will also host one juried exhibit a year by the AAP, and another annually by the New York City-based National Association of Women Artists (NAWA). The AAP show opening this week runs until Nov. 17; the next exhibit has yet to be scheduled.

Friedman, a Boston native, has lived mostly in Pittsburgh since 2016. She was a curatorial intern for the 2018 Carnegie International and has also worked at the Mattress Factory and The Andy Warhol Museum. She juried “Commence,” whose featured artists in a variety of media include Robert Buncher, Fabrizio Gerbino, Lori Hepner, Christine Lorenz and Devina Goins.

The arrangement with the Tomayko gallery is a real plus for AAP, a 113-year-old organization that mounts shows year-round in spaces all over town, including its own Lawrenceville headquarters. Tomayko is a former AAP board member whom the group’s executive director, Madeline Gent, said has underwritten artist prizes in previous exhibits.

Gent noted the new gallery’s proximity to the Penn Avenue arts corridor and other art spaces in the neighborhood. “I’m excited to be up there annually and kind of have a presence,” she said.

The gallery will also give Pittsburgh a chance to see what the similarly venerable NAWA is up to on a regular basis.

The opening reception is 6-8 p.m. Fri., Oct. 6, and admission is free.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: