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Hood Century spotlights midcentury modern design with Black influence

DON GONYEA, HOST:

Midcentury modern - think clean lines, simplicity in design. It was in vogue in the '50s and the '60s. Now it's considered something of an American institution. Jerald Cooper knows a thing or two about it. He runs the Instagram account hoodmidcenturymodern, which has attracted some 50,000-plus followers. It focuses on places where this design movement and Black culture intersect and where it's often been ignored. Jerald, welcome to WEEKEND EDITION.

JERALD COOPER: Thank you so much for having me. It's so exciting.

GONYEA: Your Instagram account is hoodmidcenturymodern, and that is literally midcentury modern in your average neighborhood.

COOPER: Yeah, recontextualizing even how hood brings it on because where I'm from - you know, working class neighborhood in Cincinnati - we can't afford to go see the Guggenheim in New York. And so I showcase the Guggenheim in New York. But sometimes I showcase the Guggenheim in New York from the imagination of Black culture, as well. And so I put Solange, the younger sister of Beyonce, on the top of a Guggenheim that's colored pink. Pink is actually the way that Frank Lloyd Wright, you know, wanted it to be. But pink is also a way that hip-hop culture in the mid-2000s would want that building to be.

GONYEA: And here's the other thing you're doing. You're looking at donut shops and gas stations and apartment complexes. How do those fit into the midcentury modern movement?

COOPER: It's so crazy the other side of midcentury modern, which was the New Deal. When the United States was forming, we chose to look at this modern movement that was coming out of Germany, and we chose to look at that as the way we wanted to set our infrastructure here in the country. And so you actually see it everywhere. And modernism in its whole form - you see art deco at the post offices, right? But people just hadn't noticed that these things are almost a utility. And not just buildings but also design characteristics that are in a lot of things.

GONYEA: Take us through your Instagram page just a little bit just by describing a few of these places.

COOPER: You know, my favorite one just happened at the Super Bowl halftime show with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. They basically performed on the architecture in their neighborhood and then - and at the two end sides, there was the Compton City Hall. And the Compton City Hall was designed and built by a guy named Harold Williams. And Harold Williams just happened to be from Cincinnati, Ohio, an African American architect. And he built it in Compton.

And Compton and Cincinnati actually have a really storied history. And it's in funk music. When Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre got together, they made G-Funk. But there was a connection between Cincinnati and Compton that I don't think a lot of people on the surface knew. I like design, Don, because there's actually real thought that goes into it. I think in some neighborhoods in North America, that hasn't been the case. And we need to, in order to advance as a nation, you know, making sure that we're housing some of the people, you know, who may not be able to compete with this, you know, real estate market - we need to be able to be mindful and especially cultural even as we preserve. I hope my actions will allow people to know that there's everyday things and also there's an opportunity for us to be part of the preserving of our culture.

GONYEA: You said there's culture in buildings. What's the culture of midcentury modern?

COOPER: When cultures are built, we're talking about music cultures, educational allegiances, even Boy Scouts - right? - they're built in buildings, and they're around surrounding lands, and they're hardly built anywhere else. And so once you take away, in Chicago, a whole jazz row, you erase a culture.

GONYEA: And every city has that story?

COOPER: Every city has that story. What you don't see from my account is this morbid look at modernism because I really feel like if I encourage the eye and then make aware of the cultural things that are going on, I do my best. My community on the account, Don - those 50,000 folks - they do a better job (laughter) because they're from those communities. I just - you know, I can bring up the narrative. And then they start going on and really helping contextualize what's going on on the ground.

GONYEA: Everybody does that once they start looking for something.

COOPER: Once you see it, it's hard to unsee it.

GONYEA: Jerald Cooper runs the Instagram account and brand hoodmidcenturymodern. Jerald, thank you so much for talking to us about all of this.

COOPER: This was so fun. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF DJ MITSU THE BEATS' "A LITTLE PIANO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.