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Brett Bloom and Ava Bromberg

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In 2003, Chicago artist Brett Bloom became the first resident of Seattle's Cottage Park, a cluster of three rehabbed cottages next to a community garden in the city's Belltown neighborhood. Formerly dominated by dive bars, missions, and low-income housing, Belltown underwent rapid gentrification during the city's mid-90s economic boom. The garden and the cottages, which now serve as a community center and housing for writers, are part of an inventive land-use initiative that's as much public art as civic planning. A collection of four casual essays detailing the efforts of Belltown activists and artists to transform nearby Vine Street into a model of green urbanism makes up half of Belltown Paradise/Making Their Own Plans (WhiteWalls), a thin double-covered paperback edited by Bloom and Ava Bromberg. The other half celebrates similar efforts from Portland, Oregon, to Hamburg, Germany. Politically of a piece with the populist art projects created by the two editors as partners in the Rogers Park art space Mess Hall, these range from Dan Peterman's south-side Chicago Compost Shelter--a VW bus body buried in compost and kept toasty by the heat generated as it decays--to a squatters' community on the grounds of an old leper hospital outside Barcelona. All are responses to a challenge to "unplug from the grid"--which, Bloom and Bromberg explain in the intro to Making Their Own Plans, means not just mainstream energy sources but the larger political and economic systems by which public space has been governed for centuries. The Mess Hall event is also a potluck dinner. Fri 2/25, 8 PM, Quimby's, 1854 W. North, 773-342-0910, and Sat 2/26, 8 PM, Mess Hall, 6932 N. Glenwood, 773-807-1158.

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