Mess Hall is an experimental cultural centre based in Chicago, and founded in 2003 as a temporary project. It acts both as host for exhibitions, discussions, film screenings, workshops, concerts, campaigns and meetings, as well as a place for radical politics, visual art, applied ecological design and creative urban planning. The centre operates out of a shop unit, a rent free space donated by the landlord, and the project in its current state is dependent on this arrangement for its survival. The space enables Mess Hall to be a completely free resource for the local community, one of the fundamental principles on which it was founded. It does not have regular opening hours but opens for scheduled events, with an on-line calendar and mailing list. This means that in order to engage with Mess Hall, local residents and visitors have to take some responsibility for finding out about events-you can't just turn up. Presently there are eight 'keyholders', people who have keys to the space, and who are responsible for its day-to-day running and the organisation of events, exhibitions etc. They give their time and resources for free, and although they have gained some funding in the past, the centre mostly runs on their generosity.
In recent years Mess Hall organised numerous events including: workshops on sewing, where people could learn how to produce their own garments in order to encourage recycling, renovation and the reuse of textiles; an event on waste stream diversion which was about the reclaiming and reuse of surplus and wasted material; a book launch of Trashing the Neoliberal City: Autonomous Cultural Projects in Chicago From 2000-2005; an event with the Institute of Infinitely Small Things, which conducts participatory and creative research into how to temporarily transform public space dominated by non-public agendas; a presentation of 'The Library of Radiant Optimism for Let's Re-make the World'; and a series of discussions on the changing nature of work.
Through this diverse programme of events Mess Hall acts as spatial agent by providing both the space and the support structure for local interactions and exchanges to occur outside of the commodified spaces of cafés and shops or the institutionalised spaces of galleries and libraries. Nonetheless, Mess Hall remains a curated space and events are organised around the interests of the 'keyholders'.
Hall, M., and R. Hollon, 'Surveilling Crime Control', Area
Chicago: Art / Research / Education / Activism, 2007,http://www.areachicago.org/p/issues/issue-4/surveilling-crime-control/.
Wang, D.S., "Mess Hall: What it is (After the First Year)." http://www.messhall.org/wimh.html.
Mess Hall 'Ten Points':
1. We demand cultural spaces run by the people who use them.
2. We create the space to remix categories, experiment, and learn what we do not already know.
3. Mess Hall explodes the myth of scarcity. Everyone is capable of sharing something.
4. The surplus of our societies should be creatively redistributed at every level of production and consumption.
5. Social interaction generates culture!
6. We embrace creativity as an action without thought of profit.
7. We demand spaces that promote generosity.
8. Mess Hall insists on a climate of mutual trust and respect - for ourselves and those who enter our space.
9. No money is exchanged inside Mess Hall. Surfing on surplus, we do not charge admission or ask for donations.
10. Mess Hall functions without hierarchy or forced unity.
- Mess Hall; http://www.messhall.org/ten_points.html
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