2 Minutes With ... Danielle Flagg, ECD at Arts & Letters Creative Co.

On creativity that matters, from the Yegna brand in Ethiopia to 'Plan Your Vote' in the U.S.

Danielle Flagg has worked in New York City, Portland, Oregon, Addis Ababa, Los Angeles, and now Richmond, Virginia.

She began her career as the first employee in a startup in NYC called Weiss, Whitten, where she learned the trade and helped build brands like Swatch, A|X Armani Exchange and Guinness. Her then 17-year run at Wieden+Kennedy on Nike, Target, Starbucks, Levis, P&G-Proud Sponsor of Moms, Facebook and Partnership for a Drug Free America, among others, sealed her love of independent minded creative thinking and the power of what authentic and bold people can do together. She also spent six months in Ethiopia working on the "Girl Effect" for the Nike Foundation and built a bespoke brand with a local and global team of very adventurous do-gooders.

Next stop was Los Angeles, where Danielle joined Media Arts Lab and MALforGOOD as an ECD working with Apple, Conservation International, The One Love Foundation and Emerson Collective (XQ:The Super School Project). Her latest exhilarating and fulfilling endeavor is in Richmond, Virginia, as an ECD at Arts & Letters Creative Co., working with incredible creative leaders and passionate cohorts on Google, ESPN, NBC News/MSNBC and other clients.

Danielle believes in curiosity, exposure, a bit of chaos and no BS. She also likes to make up words. She has won various awards over the years and has earned fortunate time with many creative geniuses across the globe. We spent two minutes with Danielle to learn more about her background, creative inspiration, and recent work she's admired.


Danielle tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut (born in NYC). After spending 22 years on the West Coast in Portland, Oregon, I am now back east, living in Richmond, Virginia.

How you first realized you were creative.

Recently I found an ancient set of Polaroids taken at a cousin's wedding in the mid '70s! On the back, hilariously, I could see that my young swirly handwriting had filled in specific names, subjects and a description of each scene. And in junior high and beyond, I remember carrying a used Pentax K1000 around my neck, almost everywhere I went—and soon learned to develop and print film myself. So early on, learning to observe and frame the world felt natural and empowering.

A person you idolized creatively early on.

Joni Mitchell. She is an unparalleled force of unique talent and bravery, not to mention an incredible poet, lyricist, artist and genre bender.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

Well, I could say it was singing a duet with Paul Giamatti in our junior high play ;) or the impact of playing competitive team sports, which I thoroughly loved and think are super important for young women. But in high school, I remember an art class where I learned the Indonesian technique of Batik. The art form is beautiful, layered and time consuming. At a certain point, I began using a tool called a janting needle versus a brush, when designing and applying the wax on the fabric. You dip the janting needle—like a fountain pen with a small hole at the head—into the hot wax, then fluidly drip it over the canvas to draw in the very moment. There can be no hesitation, stopping or erasing. It forced me to trust my creative intuition. That was a bit of a mini revelation for me. I could let my creativity "flow" versus trying to control or perfect it. And today, it is a good reminder to me, to let creative ideas flow without restriction.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

Alexander Calder, Laurie Anderson, Jenny Holzer and Bob Marley. Whoops! That’s four. So many. More.

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

I am an NPR junkie, so my local public radio inspires and objectively informs me every day. Recently I watched the MSNBC Films documentary Paper & Glue about the French artist JR. While I previously had the pleasure of meeting him and experiencing his authenticity, the breadth and scale of this documentary exhibited his unique interactive process and the transformational outcomes of his collaborative art. Some themes that resonated with me: "The process is what matters," "Become oxygen for each other." And of course, the opening quote by Agnes Varda: "Inside each person there is a landscape."

Your favorite fictional character.

Mary Richards (of the Mary Tyler Moore Show) with a side of Issa Dee and Roseanne Roseannadanna.

Someone or something worth following on social media.

@parkhere
@megabiskate
@Blinknoworg
#thelandwithnoname

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.

I am an extrovert, so the isolation of Covid was very unnatural for me. That said, I actually found solitude and introversion to be a beautiful meditational test. To nest, to cook, to work from home and settle in, felt slightly more under control than my usual draw to creative chaos and motion for motion's sake. It forced me to think about the people and relationships that nurture me, as well as the nature of my immediate surroundings. Overall, I have found that the power of connecting with work peeps, friends or those in need, by video (or phone!) for just a 15-minute hello, is mutually uplifting in a way that I previously had not noticed. Paying attention to the value of who is in our lives, and how we connect on a meaningful and empathetic level, no matter the obstacles, is a good change.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.

While this was not a project that was viewed in the U.S., working on The Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect project "Yegna" in Ethiopia was the most life-changing and culturally inspiring experience that I have ever been a part of. For six months, I lived in Addis Ababa with several female colleagues and worked together with the Ethiopian agency run by three Ethiopian women, alongside our Nike client and incredible team in Addis. The range of talent, cultural diversity and the collective teamwork around the brand building process—all amid unprecedented challenges—was truly indelible. And to experience this international collaboration in the name of empowering girls with the goal of eradicating poverty was a dream that is hard to encapsulate in words. This is our "making of" the Yegna brand video and the "Abet" music video that we made while building the brand. :)

A recent project you're proud of.

One of the projects I am proud of was the "Plan Your Vote" work that we were able to do with our clients at NBCUniversal in the early days of the pandemic. During a time of great confusion around how you could safely and correctly vote, the "Plan Your Vote" tool and campaign provided a crucial helping hand in a nonpartisan manner. The goal behind this effort was to help all Americans work through the mixed messaging about where and how to successfully vote in the 2020 elections in their individual states. We used the full family of Universal talent to help bring clarity to the message, and the tool was available in both English and Spanish in order to reach as many voters as possible. The work stood out for its factual simplicity, optimistic tone and helpful utility. And being shortlisted for an Effie made it even more fulfilling!

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.

So many influential things come to mind, but at the top is the lasting work of my creative friend Janet Champ and Charlotte Moore on the Nike Woman’s print, and of course her "f You Let Me Play" with Rachel Nelson AD. On a totally separate front I was influenced by M & Co. (Tibor Kalman), as well as Barney's incredible range of bold print advertising—both for its wit, class and unexpected approach to fashion. I especially loved the quirky campaign using Elliot Erwitt’s whimsical (non-fashion) B&W photography in the 1990s.

Someone else's work you admired lately.

I love the New York Times work and most recently this unique topsy turvy insight into true journalism. I also have to note the remarkable work of David Byrne and his concert turned show American Utopia. He is one of the most prolific and globally inspired artists. His creative output with an incredible range of collaborators, over many years (up to today), always blows my mind and puts me in joyful motion.

Your main strength as a creative person.

Connecting with people and bringing them together to make great magic. Listening, guiding, respecting and giving people permission to play/express themselves in truly unique and differentiated ways. I have been so fortunate to learn from many indelible teachers and partners. It is my goal to be the best mentor I can be, to keep the circle of creative juju going. :)

Your biggest weakness.

Time management. What even is that?

One thing that always makes you happy.

The ocean. Being on it, in it, near it. Must be its ever-changing nature—chaos or calm, tumultuous or inviting, deeply dark or crystal clear. Always a beautiful and powerful unknown. I have such respect for its regenerative ways, and it inspires me on a soulful level.

One thing that always makes you sad.

A bad font.

No, that does often feel like a tragedy, but truly, it makes me sad not to be able to travel for these past few years, due to the pandemic. For me, travel is like oxygen in terms of exposure to different experiences, people, cultures, adventures and opportunities. It is sustaining and always enlightening— whether near or far. I cannot wait to get (safely) out into the world again. And to offer and soak up inspiration, along the way.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

I’d be a poet or a cheesemonger. Or, a poetic cheesemonger.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a senior broadcast journalism student at the University of Colorado Boulder and a contributor to Muse by Clio.

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