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Dani Meluski-Jimenez makes time for the things she cares about in Norfolk

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Reading time6 minDateFeb 16, 2022Published byDani Meluski-Jimenez
Photography by Nate Ryan

Creative director Dani Meluski-Jimenez dives into personality’s outsized influence on creativity, the power that comes with accessible opportunity, and the professional growth waiting for you wherever you settle down—if you look for it.

People try to define creativity. But not only is creativity different from a medium standpoint (design, videography, etc.), but there’s an immense variety of angles that you can approach a problem or opportunity with. Your personality drives the work. It makes your creativity something distinct to you, and there’s no way to adjust your personality; it’s the product of your whole life. Your personality impacts the output of whatever it is that you’re creating. The shape is always unique.

When it comes to my day job—my “work” work—I’m at a point in my career where much of it is managing client relationships, and making sure that the work my team is producing is the best it can possibly be. And my primary philosophy drives my actions: give the team autonomy.

There’s no way to adjust your personality; it’s the product of your whole life. Your personality impacts the output of whatever it is that you’re creating. The shape is always unique.

Photography by Nate Ryan

It’s something that I was never given, coming up as a budding designer and art director. I always need to make exactly whatever it was that the client or the creative director wanted. But that’s not how you produce the best work. Creativity is the product of our personalities. We do our best work, our most iconic work, our most impactful work when we are empowered to be who we are. The work that we tend to rave about is a byproduct of really smart people (from varied backgrounds) making something new, whether it’s digital, a campaign, or a smart activation. Ideas never have to be complex—I’d argue that simplicity is best—but they do have to be a representation of diverse, varied, personality-driven thinking.

Recently, I took over the hiring and recruiting efforts for Grow’s creative team, the agency in Norfolk that I work for. We’ve been trying to scale up our creative team rather significantly, so there’s quite a bit to think about. I’m Hispanic—originally from Venezuela—and I never saw myself rising through the industry into an influential management position. But here I am.

Now, I see myself as someone who is able to give others new opportunities that I might not have been privy to. I’d love to be someone who fights to make an impact when it comes to who makes the team at Grow, or any agency that I’ll ever be a part of building.

Once I was passed over for a particular job because I didn’t have automotive experience. As if I couldn’t figure out an automotive brief, even with experience doing the work in many different categories. This isn’t rocket science, and the industry gatekeeping is a bit weird to me. That’s not what the industry should be about. If we’re truly interested in supporting creativity, then we shouldn’t need people to fit into traditional agency backgrounds or check the boxes.

Many people in the advertising industry take themselves too seriously. But it’s not that serious. (Sorry if that bursts your bubble of the agency world’s brilliance.) You’re working for gigantic, massive brands. And all you’re doing is solving problems and trying to make something cool. If you lose sight of that, and you get caught up in the egos, it can be very easy to hate your job. Perhaps you’ll lash out at people. I’ve interacted with many personalities, some overwhelming, and it’s like, “Whoa now, this is just your job. You’ve got an entire life outside of this job.”

Grow is housed within Assembly, a just-opened building in downtown Norfolk working to inspire creators and tech innovators. Drew Ungvarsky, the founder and CEO of both Grow and Assembly, has a vision for the space to welcome in the people of Norfolk. And the creative community here has always shown up for each other. We need to be in our neighborhoods and communities—let’s go back to high school and teach boot camps. Let’s launch a cross-discipline internship program for students to experience a production studio, an agency, or an architecture firm in the span of a few weeks. Part of the future is the intersection of these distinct creative talents melding together.

And that’s the opportunity for Norfolk: to open the doors and bring people into what we do. By being inclusive and open; by teaching and mentoring however we can; by carving out the time necessary to make it happen. After all, you make time for the things you care about.

Norfolk developing as a creative city is dependent on the city’s ability to shift, because things will continue to change. Sometimes change is good; other times, change isn’t. I saw gentrification happen in front of my eyes in NYC—I was a part of it, living in Bushwick before it was “cool.” I remember seeing families interact and thrive there, and now it’s full of artisanal cheese shops. It’s disappointing to see people displaced. And sad, that I was a part of this systemic issue.

Affordability matters. And I’m sure that part of Norfolk’s charm is that it’s affordable. It’s definitely a reason that we ended up here. Do we want to buy a million-dollar, 100-square foot home in Los Angeles? Um, no. We don’t. Price is a huge barrier to many folks.

By being inclusive and open; by teaching and mentoring however we can; by carving out the time necessary to make it happen. After all, you make time for the things you care about.

Photography by Nate Ryan

This city taught me to not be afraid of location. And it’s natural, I think, to worry about your career in a smaller town. I knew that Grow was always going to do great work, but I was convinced that I’d get stagnant and perhaps lose interest, or maybe not be as talented. In Norfolk, how could I have the in-sync, nuanced, trendy information that I needed to continue growing my career?

But I’m better than I’ve ever been. Never did I think that I’d be living a suburban life, and still have the ability to learn and improve and be at the top of my game. I’ve seen many Creative Directors retire from the advertising game when they hit 40, because you can’t keep up. It’s about relating to the work, or becoming irrelevant, and you fall by the wayside.

I hate to say it, but Norfolk has taught me that so much of it is a choice. It really doesn’t matter where you are as long as you choose to grow, evolve, and embrace change.

Norfolk is waiting.

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