Ai Live: Digital Artist Dani Coke discusses going viral and promoting activism through art
In today’s edition of Ai LIVE, host E. Vincent Martinez sits down with Dani Coke, event planner turned Instagram artist. Coke shares her journey of her rise in popularity on Instagram, how she creates her images, and how her art promotes discussion and activism online.
In 2019, Coke decided to quit her full-time job as an event planner, having spent some time working as a graphic designer on the side and building up a nest egg of her savings. As a self-taught designer, there was a lot of trial and error early on, often staying up late to work on projects. But this learning curve was an exciting part of the process for her, something Coke enjoyed about shifting her career.
She opened her Instagram account, ohhappydani, in 2020 and it was there Coke began sharing her artwork and her opinions for social justice and social issues. Her first post on Martin Luther King Jr. Day reminded her followers that the social activist wasn’t a passive individual. “People are more willing to listen to the hard things if they’re pretty,” she tells Martinez, describing her designs as “artivism,” a combination of art and activism, something she has become a champion for.
During Black History Month, Coke’s designs really began to take off, but it was during March and April of 2020 that she truly went viral. Her national recognition meant more attention. From websites like Forbes including her on “7 Uplifting Accounts to Follow during the Coronavirus” at number 5 and Popsugar’s “34 Talented Black Artists You Should be Following on Instagram” list, to being featured on the Today Show, USA Today, and the Insider, the fame and attention was unprecedented for someone like Coke.
She considers herself lucky that much of her art went viral all around the same time, as it meant she wasn’t trying to chase trends and she could be true to herself. Since fostering her community of followers, Coke has learned to take breaks to avoid burnout so that she can be present to offer her voice.
For Coke, most of her creation process is spent doing research. She spends time listening to the world around her and in her community, gathering details and making sure she’s informed. Then she makes this information into a single graphic so that it’s easier to share online. The actual image itself takes the least amount of time for her, resulting in her unique graphic style that has resonated for many online viewers. Martinez notes that her art transcends the present situation and can apply to multiple things.
One aspect of being on Instagram is cultivating her brand. Her advice to anyone starting out using the platform is to start small, and then slowly work towards more broad concepts. As a creative, Coke understands the urge to do everything possible, however a focus is important, especially starting out. She encourages others to find other ways to express their creativity, such as experimenting with color palettes.
While Coke’s work speaks for advocacy and allyship, she didn’t intend to become an activist in this way. She didn’t consider herself an artist, and that what she was doing was just doodles. However, she acknowledges that she saw a need in the world, and that she used her passion to fulfill that need. Coke also believes that there is an activist in all of us, and that we can learn to use our talents to speak up for what is right. “Be imperfectly willing to make a difference in the world.”
Danielle’s “Oh Happy Dani” collection, her equity & empathy-focused illustration work, is currently in Target stores as of Jan 30, 2022! https://www.target.com/p/danielle-coke-oh-happy-dani-collection/-/A-85445452
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