Frontrunner is a New York based collective – they put out an arts journal, and, in a neatly tucked away gallery space in “ChiBeCa”, Manhatten, regular exhibitions and projects. Their newest event, which opens from 6pm tonight, details the area in all its culturally rich and diverse glory. Its streets – which nestle between Chinatown to the east and TriBeCa the west – ooze with a sooty, Dickensian energy once home to the feted Mudd Club, where the likes Lou Reed and Andy Warhol once muddled. Wonderlandspoke to the clan – formed of filmmaker Edward Symes, producer Michael Fasciano, and photographer Leah Overstreet – about the noirish stills.

What do you love about the ChiBeCa area? What’s special about it?

Edward Symes: ChiBeCa is a crossroads. A place where worlds collide. Old and new. Rich and poor. Beourgois and industrial. Luxury lofts exist across the street from East Africans who open suitcases on the street and sell knockoff handbags all day long. A plastics supplier, rubber company, or lumber yard is only a block away. But its also in the backyard of the richest neighborhood in the city. I think this opens up a lot of creative possibilities. It’s in Manhattan – but it’s still “other-worldly” to many in the art world. It’s a place where you can break the rules and develop a unique voice. This show is about that collision. ChiBeCa is filled with a great tradition of independent art and is one of the few areas in Manhattan where artists can still afford a studio space.

Take us through Frontrunner’s key goals.

Michael Fasciano: Frontrunner began when we launched an online magazine in the fall of 2009. The gallery opened in 2010 to host studios and a place for emerging artists to show their work. Today we work with talented musicians, designers, photographers, and filmmakers on a variety of multimedia projects.

How did you go about pulling in and selecting the images? What kind of aspects were you looking for in prospective stills?

Leah Overstreet: I selected portraits for this show that showed a glimpse of an individual’s personality that you don’t normally see. All of the photographs were taken in Cortlandt Alley over a period of one year. The alley runs through the heart of ChiBeCa and still has a sense of old New York with its fire escapes, loading docks, and brick walls. The photos were taken with an old Hasseblad camera and Tri X film. I wanted the photographs to look like they could have been taken today or 100 years ago and have a sense of timelessness. The individuals shown make up the neighborhood and what has come to be known as ChiBeCa.

If you had to pick a favourite year in New York’s history, what would be and why?

2012. This year is going to be bigger and better.

How will Frontunner continue to develop and expand as a project in the future?

Frontrunner Magazine celebrated our 10th issue in April. We are a quarterly online magazine. We don’t publish every day or every week but we offer original writing, photography, and short films. Recently we developed an artist residency program in the gallery with MFA students at Parsons The New School. They produced a show of photography, video, and mixed media from their recent trip to China. Our studio has two films in progress, a summer art festival, and a music album scheduled to be released.

Frontrunner Gallery – 59 Franklin Street, 646-675-6727, Tribeca / Downtown. The exhibition is open from April 19 – April 30.

Words: Jack Mills