By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Six months ago, Kennita Hickman decided to take a chance on herself. For years, her brand management and strategy company, Catera, had been more of a side hustle, but in June, Hickman decided to go full entrepreneur and make it her full-time gig.
Over those six months, Hickman has worked on her project “Artists Eats,” curated musicians for Lakeside at MAM and Music on the Beerline and more.
Last week, Radio Milwaukee recognized Hickman’s hard work and awarded her the 2021 Music Ambassador award. The award, which began in 2007, recognizes individuals or organizations for their efforts to elevate Milwaukee’s music scene.
“It means so much,” Hickman said. “To me, it’s a testament of people seeing my work. In one way, it feels so much more about my work and the impact of my work versus the celebration of me, which is kind of nice.”
For Hickman, it’s not about politicking for awards but doing work that she’s proud of and that she feels God is proud of.
“It’s an incredible honor that my work kind of spoke for itself and created room for Catera and ‘Artist Eats’ and myself to be recognized,” she said.
Hickman is the first Black woman to win this award. Past winners include Vic Thomas, Milwaukee World Festival, Milwaukee Public Library and more.
“I hope me winning the award as the first Black woman, that there are other people of the global majority who see this an opportunity to make some impact,” she said. “I hope that other people are coming and helping to fill the space that we have; to support artists when they are on stage and when they aren’t on stage.”
Since entering Milwaukee’s music scene, Hickman’s goal has been to do intentional work. She first began her career in radio, before branching out as a freelance writer for magazines and other publications beyond Milwaukee. But around 2008, she felt a desire to support Milwaukee artists.
Milwaukee-based artists would submit their press kits to publications that Hickman worked for, but they weren’t very good, she said. So, Hickman began helping artists. She’d connect them with a photographer, rewrite their bio and rework their press kit before resubmitting it to her editor.
Soon word began to spread on the North Side of Milwaukee: A Black girl was rewriting artists’ bios and submitting them to publications.
“I think there was just a thing in me that recognized the importance of Milwaukee being able to have access to those skillsets too,” she said.
As part of her brand strategy and management Hickman is currently working on some brand influencer projects with nonprofits in which she connects artists to advocacy work.
She wanted to give Milwaukee-based celebrities a voice off stage where they could leverage their status to do advocacy work and be compensated.
In November, Hickman helped connect B~Free, Webster X and DJ Bizzon to Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin for a blood drive.
Her company Catera also offers event curation and production.
For the past few years, she’s helped Riverworks Development Corporation with its event “Music on the Beerline.” This year, she took on the role of stage manager.
“Catera is looking to fill the gap for businesses and nonprofits who are looking to engage with artists in an equitable way,” she said. “[It is] also supporting artists on the brand strategy and brand campaign side…my work is still wrapped around helping independent artists to be seen and heard.”
One of Hickman’s biggest projects is her video series, “Artist Eats,” which features independent artists and local eateries.
During Bronzeville Week, the episode featured Ray Nitti at Mi Casa Su Café and Ald. Milele Coggs at Jewels Caribbean. In January, an episode featuring Sista Strings at the Villa Terrace will premiere.
Her hope is to expand the series into other cities and showcase their independent artists and local eats.
In addition to fundraising, Hickman’s goals for the upcoming year include building out her clients. She wants to focus on connecting artists to performance opportunities and brand influencer projects where they can be compensated.
Milwaukee has a strong creative scene, but it hasn’t always been fully recognized. Milwaukee still doesn’t have a solidified PR company for independent artists, Hickman said, nor does it have a touring and logistics company for independent creators.
“There isn’t enough consumer hunger for these things,” she said. “We haven’t really had a campaign that educated the community on the importance of supporting your Milwaukee-based artists across disciplines.”
She continued, “I’m hoping to continue to leverage whatever influence I have to really hopefully begin to
get people to think about the importance of that and how do we begin putting those things in place.”
There’s so much promise in Milwaukee, and so much work to be done, she said, expressing the hope that other folks feel inspired to get into branding and fill that space.