The Frame Gallery Enters New Era with Major Renovation

The Frame Gallery, Carnegie Mellon University’s student-run art gallery, will undergo a major renovation this summer to make the venue accessible to all audiences and provide critical upgrades. Since its founding in 1969, The Frame has served as a crucial public-facing venue for free expression, diverse perspectives, and inclusive community. This $275,000 renovation ensures The Frame will continue to be an important locus of creative expression for CMU and the greater Pittsburgh community for generations to come.

In order to make the space ADA accessible, a new restroom will be constructed on the ground level and the entrance will be modified to include a ramp. Further improvements will bring the space up to current gallery standards, ensuring that a wide variety of exhibitions and events can be held at The Frame. These improvements include: replacing the existing wallboard with double-layered plywood and a drywall finish so that art may be safely hung on the walls; replacing the lighting with easy-to-configure and energy-efficient LED fixtures; and general maintenance of the space such as floor refinishing, new paint, and new baseboards. The renovation also includes a complete rehab of the façade and the installation of new signage.

The renovation of The Frame stems from the advocacy of student leaders and includes support from across the university. Funding is provided by the Provost’s office and Division of Student Affairs, CMU Housing Services, the CMU Universal Access Committee, Student Government, the College of Fine Arts, and the School of Art. The work is slated to begin in May and finish in time for the fall 2023 semester.

“Carnegie Mellon is thrilled to invest in the remarkable legacy and promising future of The Frame Gallery,” said Provost James H. Garrett, Jr. “For more than 50 years, The Frame has hosted hundreds of exhibitions, performances and events. Its scope reaches beyond the College of Fine Arts and presents opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations across Carnegie Mellon and in our community. This renovation ensures the longevity of this important asset for our community.”

The Storied History of The Frame

The effort to establish a student-run gallery on campus was led by A. Aladar Marberger, who would go on to be an influential gallerist and outspoken gay rights and AIDS activist. With the 1969 termination of the Woodlawn Pharmacy lease, located at the corner of Margaret Morrison and Forbes, Marberger, along with fellow CMU students Don Whipple and Stuart White, petitioned the university to support the establishment of a gallery. According to an article in The Pittsburgh Press (October 30, 1969), Marberger led the effort to garner university support by “bothering the people in the office of the president until, impressed, they came up with an emergency budget to get the remodeling started.” The Carnegie Alumni News (February 1972) noted that the university allocated $10,000 to retrofit the space as a gallery. The university also had to obtain a commercial zoning variance “against neighborhood opposition that the gallery would become a ‘hippie hangout.’” The Pittsburgh Press article notes that Dean of Student Affairs Earl Swank eased the fears of the opposition by assuring the community that “he would keep an eye on the operation from his apartment on the second floor of the building.” The Carnegie-Mellon Student’s Gallery, or Student Gallery as it was more frequently known, opened on October 28, 1969, with over 1,500 people in attendance.

The gallery became known as Forbes Street Gallery by 1974 and Forbes Gallery by 1982. During 1996-1997 academic year, under the leadership of Karla Turcios (A ’97) and Enrique Sacasa (A ’97), the gallery’s student committee began a campaign to renew the space. It included a new brand and a new name, The Frame Gallery. In addition to organizing exhibitions like Sofrito!, a Latino student artist group show, students also brought in important guest speakers, such as artist Amalia Mesa Bains. Students also began discussions on physical renovations, which resulted in repairs to the space’s lighting.

“From its founding, The Frame has demonstrated that at Carnegie Mellon, students can accomplish the extraordinary,” said Gina Casalegno, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. “The Frame is a unique showcase for our students’ drive and passion as they uncover new forms of knowledge and expression through collaboration and creativity. The work of students to maintain this undergraduate-led space over generations is an impressive feat.”

After he graduated from CMU, Aladar Marberger was encouraged to move to New York by Elaine de Kooning, who was a visiting professor at CMU from 1969–70. In the 1970s, he became the first director of Fischbach Gallery. Under his direction, the gallery became a leader in presenting contemporary realism.

Marberger was the longtime partner of Robert Joffrey, the influential dancer, teacher, producer, choreographer, and co-founder of the Joffrey Ballet. When Marberger was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, he became outspoken about living with the disease and was the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles as well as a television documentary. He was also an early volunteer for experimental treatments. He died of AIDS-related complications in 1988, just eight months after Joffrey.

Ensuring the Legacy of The Frame for Future Generations

The effort to update The Frame began under Anne Crumley (A ’19), who served as the director of the space during the 2018–19 academic year. By that time, the gallery needed repairs: the wallboard had become damaged after years of use, the lighting was inadequate, and the general conditions in the space had deteriorated. Crumley worked with the next cohort of leaders, Coco Allred (A ’20) and Zachary Rapaport (A ’20), to further advocate for updates to The Frame.

“Stopping by the Frame on Friday evening was a ritual to gather, discuss, and celebrate the creative output of our arts community and share with the university at large,” noted Allred. “Directing the Frame, I learned so much about what it takes to run a gallery, advocate for the arts, and support artists.” After graduation, Allred organized community art events and completed an ArtistYear, an AmeriCorp program that places teaching artists in schools. She’s currently at an artist residency in Italy.

In 2020, the student government vice president for finance, via the joint funding committee (JFC), allocated The Frame $40,000 to update the space. Updates began under the next cohort of leaders, Iz Horgan (A ’21) and Moxie Duncan-Tessmer (A ’21), who, despite pandemic restrictions, began the process of renovating the gallery.

“I always loved that the Frame itself was a mystery to pedestrians,” said Horgan. “The gallery disguises itself as a storefront, with large, display-like windows. One day if you walk past, it might be empty and the next day it might be completely transformed, almost overflowing with artwork. I am proud of the many hours of hard work and negotiation my team members, along with the cohort before us, dedicated to the Frame Gallery.” Since graduating, Horgan continues to be a working artist.

Once renovations began, it quickly became apparent that The Frame needed more than cosmetic repairs in order to serve as a well-functioning space. With this understanding, the School of Art worked with student leaders to advocate for a full renovation of the Frame in order to restore its prominent role on campus.

Bridging the Past with the Future

The COVID-19 pandemic made ever more evident the necessity of an in-person gathering space for student creativity on the CMU campus. Not only does the Frame provide a space for the CMU and Pittsburgh communities to experience the creativity of students, but it also offers a welcoming and inclusive venue for the free exchange of ideas and learning, which is a core value of Carnegie Mellon University. Despite our new ways to connect online, nothing can replace the palpable and engaging experience of artistic experimentation in physical space.

“I am honored to play a small part in the impressive legacy of The Frame Gallery by supporting this essential renovation,” said Charlie White, Head of the School of Art. “From the vision and tenacity of Aladar Marberger in carving out an entirely student-run campus space to the scores of student-artists who have exhibited in the space since its founding, The Frame has played a unique role in fostering generations of creative thinkers and cultural leaders at CMU.”

As The Frame enters a new era, the original inspiration of Aladar Marberger and his classmates to establish a public-facing space dedicated to artistic exploration and creative expression remains as vital as ever.

Research provided by Nick Mlakar.