Mike Ford’s “Hip Hop Architecture Camp” launched in February 2017 with a modest gathering of a few dozen middle schoolers and a few folks from the City of Madison planning department at Madison Public Library’s central location downtown.
Less than two years later, Ford is now known nationwide as The Hip Hop Architect, he’s run camps from Atlanta to Portland to Los Angeles and back, and now his story can been seen on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), featured in a “Supersoul Short Film” sponsored by American Family Insurance.
“At the first camp in Madison, with Madison Public Library and city planners, I didn’t think that it would go this far,” Ford says. “But I think some of the conversations that were had there in Madison about the lack of diversity within architecture and urban planning, I think were the same conversations that were being had across the country. This was a very unique approach to solving the issue or addressing the issue that nobody else had explored. And I think that’s why it’s caught traction, because we’ve been trying to solve or address the issue of diversity in architecture, urban planning the same way for the last few decades. And now this is something that’s totally unique and totally different.”
The Supersoul Short Films series grew out of Supersoul Sundays, a series on OWN featuring Oprah Winfrey interviewing a wide range of public figures. The short films primarily highlight innovative efforts started by passionate people trying to do some good in their communities.
“It’s huge for somebody such as Oprah or the Oprah Winfrey network to cover the work that I’ve been doing with young people because what it’s doing is shining a national light on the need for more minorities to get involved with designing their communities,” Ford says. “Our places and spaces that we occupy now have a huge impact on our day to day lives and our culture and unfortunately with the low number of people of color who are in architecture, we don’t have a large say in what happens in our neighborhoods.”
Ford notes that fewer than three percent of architects in the US are African American, and very few architects are depicted as being African American.
“The last one I can remember is a Wesley Snipes in ‘Jungle Fever,'” Ford says with a laugh.
Much of the footage in the four-minute video features kids from Ford’s Chicago Hip Hop Architecture camp, but a lot of Ford himself was filmed in Madison — which was not originally part of the plan.
“They interviewed me in Chicago during our camp for kids in Chicago, but thought it was important because I mentioned Madison when they were interviewing me for hours,” he says. “I mentioned Madison so much that they thought it was important to come and redo some parts of the interview in Madison.”
Hip-Hop Architecture Camps for 2019 will kick off in Washington, D.C. in February.