Get To Know Ciera Mckissick From AMFM

Introduce yourself

Hello everyone, my name is Ciera Mckissick. I am the founder and curator of AMFM. I’m originally from Milwaukee and have been in Chicago for three years.

How was life growing up in Milwaukee?

Milwaukee is an interesting place. It’s a city with charm, but it’s a city with issues and problems. It’s actually one of the largest cities for segregation. Diversity is another issue. When you find your pocket of people, the city is what you make of it, in that sense. I surrounded myself with great people and would always go to gallery nights with my dad. My mom was always very supportive of endeavors. I started off doing art shows and helping artists there, so Milwaukee was good.

When did you begin to witness you had creative talents?

I’ve always been creatively inclined. I started AMFM as a magazine and at first, it stood for Arts Music Fashion Magazine. For elementary school, I went to an art school, Elm Creative Arts and as a kid, I would make magazines out of notebooks. I think I just grew up being creative with my hands. I was always making up games that pertained to arts and music. My dad used to always take me to gallery nights as well, which played a big role in me wanting to get involved with art.

When did you get involved with writing?

I’ve been writing my whole life, basically. I used to carry a notebook with me everywhere. I used to write a lot of poetry and fiction growing up. One of my goals is to write a novel. The only way I feel I can communicate with myself truly is through writing. I think a lot, so being able to just write out my thoughts truly helps.

You said you love magazines, and one of your favorite magazines is Interview magazine.

I loved Interview magazine and still do to this day. I used to have pictures all over my wall from my favorite issues. Their large-scale editorial images were very beautiful. The one thing that stood out the most with me about Interview Magazine was their Q&A based interviews. Not only just Q&A based, but also they would have artists interviewing other artists, which I think is so important. I liked that repertoire between the interviewer and interviewee. That was the most intriguing thing because I’m super inquisitive and I love asking questions, and that’s what I wanted to model AMFM after.

AMFM Magazine concept

I attended the University of Madison-Wisconsin and was writing for the school magazine called, Emmie and done some work with the newspaper. I always wanted to have my own magazine one day and I constantly found myself surrounded by creative individuals who needed a platform to showcase their stuff. People like Beyonce and other high up creatives were always going to get written about, but I felt like local creatives needed to be talked about as well. I was in college surrounded by bands and would go to shows all the time to interview my friends. At times I would do a few cold calls as well. One time I remember doing an interview with a girl from Project Runway that I hit up via e-mail. I always enjoyed doing interviews and talking with people. I designed the whole website in college and the idea of it was to be a print magazine for the web. I designed the page to make it look like it was a magazine with pull quotes and the pictures framed all around the page. I pitched it to my teacher and ended up getting an A on the project and have been doing it ever since. Over the years, AMFM has definitely evolved over time. The look and feel of it have changed with the times. AMFM is my greatest accomplishment, I’m so glad I did it. I’m so thankful for my teacher Pat Hastings.


What caused the move to Chicago?

I moved out to Sacramento a few months after I graduated. I was up there with an ex of mine, but I surrounded myself with a good community of artists and was able to bring AMFM back to the forefront. After two and a half years in Sacramento, I decided to make my way back to Milwaukee. My grandmother got really ill and I wanted to be close to her. After a little while, my grandmother passed and the relationship I was in dissipated. For some time my friend Drea had wanted me to move to Chicago, but it was the wrong time. I finally then made the move to Chicago to start fresh and I’m so glad I made that decision to come here. I came here and was only supposed to stay for a year. I moved down here with no job, not a lot of anything actually, but had some money saved up and got an apartment. Now, I’ve been here for three years, have my own gallery and am not looking to go anywhere anytime soon.

“Since moving to Chicago almost a little over 2 years ago, it has been my dream to operate my own space and create a hub for creatives to showcase their talent on our walls, on our stages, or through programming” Now that you’ve had a space for 4 months now, how has it been?

It’s crazy, honestly. To see a dream brought to fruition is humbling, inspiring, and makes me want to work harder. That dream came true and I’m now working towards a bigger dream. The reception and how things have blossomed over these months have been great. There’s something about having a brick and mortar that is a game changer. People are constantly coming to my space and bringing their ideas to fruition and that’s just a beautiful thing. People would always welcome me into their gallery spaces when I first started throwing pop-ups and I just always have wanted to return the favor. I now have three resident artists that have desks and studio space that work out of the gallery. I’m able to support artists and it feels amazing.


You’ve been in Pilsen for a few years now working with Cultura in Pilsen and the Chicago Art Department. Was the idea of AMFM to always be in Pilsen?

100%. I sometimes think of other neighborhoods I can see AMFM in, but I love Pilsen. It’s the first neighborhood I lived in and the people welcomed me in. I like the sense of community here in Pilsen. The murals, the art, the culture, and diversity in the area are why I love Pilsen. Pilsen is where my heart is.

AMFM is more than just an art gallery

People are coming in with all kinds of ideas and I love it. We have our Jazz Series, meditation events, and talks on femininity, womanhood, diversity and what it means to be intersectional, and so many more different events. I really want to start workshop series in the summertime where I have friends come in and teach classes on screen-printing. The space is really an incubator. I listen to people and look at their idea and see if we align. I don’t like to have a lot of crazy things going on in our space. I really only want good genuine people and events here in our space.

How are you reaching out to artists and developing connections with them?

Most of the time artists are reaching out to me. Also, since I’ve been in Chicago, I’m really someone that’s out here. I’m going to art shows, going to music shows, just really going to where the people are. I’m always looking to introduce myself and see what’s out there. I’m always looking to discover new talent. We get submissions all the time through email and I’m trying to figure out ways to possibly incorporate those into monthly mixes. People come to me, but I always have to go towards the people and stay fresh with new talent.

You’re an artist yourself, but you’ve spoken on how you personally don’t like to showcase your art. Why is that?

I don’t know. I think I do art for me personally. I’ve been toying around with the idea of should I have an art show. It’s on my bucket list, but a lot of my art is very deep and personal. For me, art is a cathartic experience. I actually just started considering myself an artist. 

The question of manifestation. Goals for AMFM and three artists you would like to have shows for?

Funny, I was just talking about manifestation earlier. You can really do anything as long as you put in the work. I made a vision board for the New Year and everything has been happening on it. When it comes to the rest of 2017 I’m looking to have larger more conceptual shows. I’m trying to think bigger and collaborate with more people. I’m excited for the next half of the year. Summer is going to be amazing. We are going to be doing a park series outside in Dvorak Park this summer. I’m trying to work towards creating a festival someday, so the Park series is helping me get my feet wet.

When it comes to working with three artists, I would love to have Saba, Ravyn Lenae, and Jamila Woods perform at a few shows of mine. I would also love to have a conversation or have Chance come by the gallery sometime.

When it’s all said and done how would you like to be remembered?

There’s this quote by Pancho Villa that I love, “Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.” I want to be known for having something to say and being able to connect people and bring people together all through love, for the love of it. The moment I stop loving it, I need to stop. Tell them I said something and hopefully it’s something great.

Written by: Nico Rud