Almost everyone agrees that art and music enhance our lives – many of us say we couldn't live without it – and yet it is difficult to impossible for most creatives to live off of their art earnings.
Enter Kennita Hickman: a lifelong Milwaukeean who works tirelessly to help local artists and musicians earn money. (Feel free to read that sentence again.)
"I've had the opportunity to event produce and curate events that connect musicians and artists to paid opportunities. I also get to support singular musicians as they build sustainable careers based in Milwaukee," says Hickmann. "We don't have an infrastructure that supports creatives in that way. It feels like my life's calling."
OnMilwaukee recently had the chance to chat with Hickman about her passions and insights. Read on.
OnMilwaukee: So let's start from the beginning. Where were you born, raised and attend school?
Kennita Hickman: I was born here in Milwaukee and raised on the Northwest Side of Milwaukee. My parents are the second owners of a home here in town. I went to the best school ever: the Rufus King High School! I went on to spend a few semesters at UW-Milwaukee and MATC.
So tell us about your work.
I own Catera, where I help independent creatives to be seen and heard. My title, which I made up, is Chief Culture Curator. I also executive produce and host a culture series called Artist Eats. On a day-to-day basis, that includes working with singular musician clients with brand strategy and implementation and press campaigns. For arts orgs and neighborhood BIDS, it's curating arts events and event production. I'm also producing my own music series.
How is this work fulfilling for you?
Being able to support creatives in Milwaukee is a blessing. Seriously. I've had the opportunity to event produce and curate events that connect musicians and artists to paid opportunities. I also get to support singular musicians as they build sustainable careers based in Milwaukee. We don't have an infrastructure that supports creatives in that way. It feels like my life's calling. I can't think of a better way to spend time on Earth.
How does your work move Milwaukee forward?
I don't know that it does because not enough people see value in it. I think that as it relates to Milwaukee and how we consume independent art –especially created by people of the global majority – we don't do a good job and struggle to circulate enough dollars to allow creatives to be able to live off their art.
My company was created out of necessity to support artists in these small, tangible ways. My hope is that other people will also start similar companies and think about what our city needs and creates that to support our creatives.
How else are you involved in your community?
I serve on two boards, #IVoted and Milwaukee Theatre Alliance. I also work hard to buy locally as often as possible and I think that supports community too.
Have you ever thought about moving from Milwaukee? And if so, what made you stay?
I did think of leaving Milwaukee. The plan was to have a place in New York City, Cali, London and Puerto Rico. My mom said I had to stay here for college though. I wanted to go to Howard. So initially, that's why I stayed. As I got older, I recognized that if I left Milwaukee, a void would be left. That's what happens when people leave communities: a void is left and I didn't want to do that. I decided to stay and figure out how to contribute to our artist community. Also, the cost of living is good here.
What are some of your hobbies/passions/things you like to do when not working at your job?
Definitely eating. Definitely eating. Cheese fries specifically. And pumpkin cupcakes. (Laughing.) I love reading. Oh! And survivalist shows like "Naked and Afraid," "Alone," "Survival." And a good narco documentary. I'm also subscribing to more naps. I like a good nap.
What is one thing you love about Milwaukee?
Hmmm, one thing? I really believe if you can make it here, you can make it everywhere. So to me, Milwaukee represents this space of possibility and opportunity in a crazy, hard-knocks place.
What is one thing you don't love about Milwaukee?
I don't love that Milwaukee is the worst place to raise a Black family. As a Black woman, who has Black nieces and nephews and a Black partner I worry about our survival daily.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.