Sometimes when I conduct an interview, I just turn my voice recorder on and only end up asking a few questions. I generally attribute this to the fact that the artists who allow me to bother them have full command of the world which they create and inhabit, and allow me to enter that world. My tour guides are good to me.
As a representative of the Canvas collective community, venturing to AMFM gallery is sort of like going one galaxy over to a prosperous planet, where many of the same leaders have worked together and resources abound familiar. Strange, new, and beautiful things are discovered.
Strange, new, beautiful things are what we look forward to as we proudly announce AMFM Gallery as one of the featured collaborators for Voyager NYE 2018.
Ciera Mckissick, founder at AMFM, is one of those people who makes my job really easy. A UW-Madison Journalism school graduate from Milwaukee, she is easily more qualified for my own journalistic task than I am. So I sat down and ran my recorder and got to know more about Ciera Mckissick, AMFM and plans for Voyager NYE 2018.
Ciera, tell me how AMFM came to be.
I started it back in college, back in ’09. I went to University of Wisconsin – Madison. I moved out to Cali after that. It was my independent study project my senior year. I’d always found myself surrounded by a lot of dope people who were making cool music, or art. I went to a lot of shows. I wanted to find a way to marry my love of all those things. I was never a traditional artist myself, in that sense, but I really like the culture, and going out to shows.
I pitched the idea to my teacher. I used to make mini magazines when I was a kid, I wrote all the time. I’ve done a bunch of web design stuff with Journalism classes, so I pitched the idea to build my own magazine website, and the idea was for it to look like a print magazine for the web. I love print so much, but web is super cheap, and its also a quick way to get information.
I designed the website, wrote twelve articles, interviewed a bunch of people. AMFM stands for Arts, Music, Fashion, Magazine. I got an A on the project.
After that I moved to Cali for a couple years, and then ended up finding myself again in this creative community of people doing dope stuff, and thought, well, let me do a special Sacramento issue. I started doing a slice of different scenes in whatever city I would go to. I’m from Milwaukee originally.
Mckissick moved to Milwaukee after living in California, where she continued to explore artists, communities, and their social impact with a Milwaukee AMFM issue.
I wanted to get offline and connect with people directly so I started doing shows out there [in MKE] with a couple of my friends, combining arts and music together. So you could come to an art show to look at more than just art, get people to stay and interact, so we started doing music acts to do some really fun events.
I came to Chicago to take it to the next level. I really came here to work. It’s interesting how it evolved from being a magazine online to a project into a space and being a brand.
“I really came here to work”
Mckissick’s hustle is apparent with the success of the AMFM space, situated at 21st & Leavitt in the historic Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. Her desire to run a gallery space in this neighborhood never abandons what she considers the duty of such an endeavor, which is to pull in and be a part of the community that AMFM calls home.
While AMFM does pop up events all over the city, Mckissick tells me she plans to keep things local during the holiday season with events in Pilsen, which she refers to as home.
Do you have a resident staff? Do you do this all by yourself
Originally it was me doing everything, and I was working a nine-to-five too. It got really hard the more momentum we got. I was doing all the writing and stuff like that when I was in other cities and back home in Milwaukee. When I came to Chicago and built with the community and met so many different people, people wanted to be involved with the ‘movement.’ What’s interesting is that people called it a movement before I even thought of it as that. People would just be like ‘Yo, I love your events, can I shoot with you?’ and people just started coming on board for the love of it.
Once we got this space it really catapulted the brand to a whole other level.
We have resident artists that work with us out of this space. In the back studio there’s a podcaster, two writers (poetry and one is working on a book), painters and illustrators. We just got DJ Skoli moved in our back room. We’re going to have a music production studio back there. It’s growing and a lot more people are getting involved.
It’s the idea that people are in the space and we want to give them space to be able to have studio time, to create work. I also have a core team of people. Jordan Dexter Holmes (@dxtr_spits) coordinates the Jazz series with me. He is sort of the right hand man. My homie Mohammed that I knew from Milwaukee works for an agency with musicians on a festival scale and wanted to get involved with AMFM and help us grow, so he’s been handling booking and accounting, as well.
Are you planning to do something on the level of a festival, eventually?
Yes, of course! We did a show in the park this past summer. We got a grant from Night Out in the Parks, co-sponsored by Shazam with a stage and everything. We are hoping to that again, but bigger and better. We are really big on collaboration and working with different entities, organizations, we do everything from working with people like Canvas, to the Chicago Park District, and arts education workshops with kids. There is a wide range of what we can do and where we can go.
I love the vibrancy of Pilsen’s culture, the art, the murals. When I originally moved to 18th & Ashland I knew all my neighbors and my landlord. I just really love Pilsen and can’t think of another neighborhood that would be more fitting.
Mckissick reminds us that moving into a neighborhood with an existing culture always comes with its caveats:
You have to make sure you are not just coming in and ignoring the existing community that you have joined. You have to be cognizant of where you are living. This area is definitely representative of the hot-button topic of gentrification in Chicago; it is changing rapidly in places. But Pilsen is so rooted in its own culture and the hardworking ethics of the people that live here. It is important to keep that tradition of the neighborhood. I try not to come in and insert myself, as much as integrating with the community.
What started as an A+ journalism school project is now a bright jewel in Chicago’s crown of local art galleries. AMFM will bless our interstellar New Year’s Eve with the sights and sounds this city has to offer.
So how can we expect to see AMFM manifest its presence at Voyager NYE 2018? With a pension for multidimensional involvement we look forward to art installations, DJs and other live music from local collaborators working with AMFM. Jane Georges will be helping to build out AMFM’s Planet Pink. Interstellar regalia such as orbs, moon-rocks, and reflective devices will be imported from the corners of the galaxy. Confirmed AMFM collaborators coming along for the journey into the New Year include: DJ Bonita Appleblunt, DJ Dapper, Ric Wilson, and Sen Morimoto, with more artists to-be-announced.
Don’t sleep! Get your presale tickets to Voyager NYE 2018 while they last!