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Ciera McKissick Is A Champion For Chicago’s Creativity (2018)

Written by on February 9, 2023

In celebration of Vocalo’s 15th anniversary, we’re looking back on some of our favorite archived segments of “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like.”

Ciera McKissick, founder of AMFM, has found a home in Chicago — and is doing everything in her power to leave it better than how she found it. By March 2018, when she sat down with Vocalo producer Fyodor Sakhnovski, the Pilsen resident was well-established in creating experiences for local artists and organizations around Chicago.

Ciera McKissick has her thumb on the pulse of everything Chicago. Founder of AMFM, an organization supporting new and established artists through amplifying their work on a large scale, she fosters community and allows her love for Chicago and its culture to lead the way. 

“There’s so many young creative people here doing amazing things,” McKissick explained. “I just really got engrossed in the scene and engrossed with the people and really wanting to be a part of what was happening here.”

As a queer woman of color operating in a male-dominated industry, she has worked hard to create a name for herself and her company. She might have a soft voice, but the work she does makes a big impact. She is intentional with the experiences she creates, and she says many times people are shocked to learn she’s the driving force behind many of her large-scale events. 

“I think this is a really great time in society, where women are kind of really stepping to the forefront and doing really amazing and powerful work, and kind of working and fighting for that recognition that has been so long-deserved,” McKissick proclaimed. 

McKissick has proven herself to be a true champion of her community. After quitting her job in May of 2017, she dedicated all of her time to running AMFM, built a team and established AMFM as their main source of income. 

“I want my legacy to be known that I cared for the people and I cared for the culture,” she said. 

Since 2018, AMFM has grown into an organization supporting thousands in the community and hosting or participating dozens of events, art fairs and other community programming. In 2022, they were one of 14 Chicago organizations working toward social good and equitable impact selected by Breakout Chicago to receive a grant from the Chicago Community Fund.

In this segment of “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like” Ciera McKissick discusses her work with AMFM, the importance of Women’s History Month, how she started out in Chicago and what she loves about the city. 

Ciera McKissick by Joseph Mietus, via Patron Gallery.

Introduce yourself, and describe your work in a few words.

My name is Ciera McKissick, and I am the founder of AMFM. It’s a brand based in Chicago, we try to give artists who are emerging a platform to showcase their art, their passion, through our venue, through our website and content, and through our events that we do around the city. And this is what Chicago sounds like.

What drew you to Chicago? Where in the city do you live now?

I came to Chicago about four years ago. I’m originally from Milwaukee, in Wisconsin. And Chicago has always been a part of my life. Me and my mom used to come up and go shopping and walk around and things like that. But I really got ingrained in Chicago when I was working with Gozamos, a website that does a lot of really great content, art and cultures for young Latinx folks and things. And I moved out to Chicago, because I had met so many really great people and was working with them. So I moved to Pilsen, actually, and that’s where I currently still live. Pilsen is beautiful. I love the art and the hardworking community that I’m surrounded by. And just that feeling of family and love and kind of vibrancy of the neighborhood. And it just drew me there, and just kind of moved out here to start over, to take AMFM to the next level. I was able to get a space. And I’m able to bring people to that space and offer that space to other people, as well. I’ve made so many beautiful friends and connections with people in this city. And it’s almost made me a better person, I’ve transformed into a person that I never knew that I could be. And I didn’t really know that much about Chicago, and how much it would affect me like that. I found myself here, it feels more like home than home almost does to me. And it’s a community that I feel most at home in.

What do you love about Chicago?

I love Chicago, I really was only supposed to stay here for a year to figure out what I wanted to do. But I just fell in love with the people and the culture and the community surrounding. There’s so many young creative people here doing amazing things. And I just really got engrossed in the scene and engrossed with the people and really wanting to be a part of what was happening here. There’s a beautiful kind of Renaissance and brewing of creative genius, I think, that’s popping out in Chicago right now. And I would be a fool to leave at this moment, considering what I do. It’s the people, it’s the events that you go to, the art, the food, just the quick-pacedness of it. But also that hometown, feeling of… that camaraderie of the city, and kind of the connections that people have.

Tell us about your experience running AMFM.

As a woman, I’m soft-spoken, I have a quiet voice and I’m small. And sometimes when people… think about AMFM, or who’s behind it, they don’t often think that it’s me. So I’ll introduce myself, and they’ll be like, “Oh, wow, you run this space!” Almost thinking that… they wouldn’t expect it from someone like me. But I think that, being a woman in general, I think this is a really great time in society, where women are kind of really stepping to the forefront and doing really amazing and powerful work, and kind of working and fighting for that recognition that has been so long-deserved. It’s been a privilege of mine to be able to be a woman, and a woman of color, and doing the work that I do. Because I work with a lot of men and dudes and stuff like that, I work on large-scale events and things, and I’m just… Ciera here, doing the work. And it’s been really beautiful. I’ve been told that I’m one of the only spaces run in the city by, like, a woman of color who’s also queer. And I think that that’s a beautiful thing. It makes it just that much more special, and me more intentional in the work that I do. And the communities that I create.

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What do you feel is important about Women’s History Month [the month of March]?

I think that Women’s History Month is really important. I mean, we definitely should have that recognition and appreciation all year round. And just being able to have a month where we can kind of focus that energy on it, and women are celebrated, I think is amazing. But I do definitely think that women should be celebrated and be told that they’re amazing and be uplifted 365. But having that time where a lot of people are coming to me to do women’s shows, or women-fronted bills and those types of things, or spaces for women that they can feel safe in and just conversations about that. I think just that awareness is important. We have a lot more work to do. But I think it’s beautifully brewing, for sure.

How do you strive to inspire the community through your work at AMFM?

I’ve been able to show that you can make your dreams come true. Because I think that, if you put in hard work, and you put in effort, despite what people may think of you, or think that you’re capable of, being an example of that, I hope that I’m able to inspire others. And… cause them to take that leap of faith, like, I quit my job back in May. And I’ve been able to do AMFM since then, by myself, creating a team and now I have people who are working with me and who are invested in the mission and the cause. And I’m working for them, too, so that we can all eat, and we can pass that on to our communities and things. 

What do you hope is your legacy?

I want my legacy to be known that I cared for the people and I cared for the culture. And I really wanted to do this for them. And try to… leave a footprint and connect people, and challenge people to think outside the box, think outside of their craft, and create something together and be able to evolve and grow together. I really want to bring people together, and I think that that is what I’m the best at and I’ve been put here to do. 

Keep up with Ciera McKissick and AMFM on Instagram.

Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago and enrich us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.

Produced and edited by Fyodor Sakhnovski, 2018

Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

Written introduction by Joshua X. Miller and Morgan Ciocca

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