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'Mayor Of Southtown' Honored For His 80th Birthday, Longtime Support Of San Antonio Artists

Oscar Alvarado's mosaic portrait of Casey
Jack Morgan
Oscar Alvarado's mosaic portrait of Casey

There’s a San Antonian who is the fictitious mayor of a fictitious town, but who now has a very real art gallery opening, and all in his honor.

He’s bike-riding, bow-tie-wearing Mike Casey and is often seen in Southtown where he lives.

He wasn't available to speak to TPR, but he has friends who did. Friends like artist Gary Sweeney.

“You can see him around town in a seersucker suit and a straw hat riding his bicycle,” he said with a smile. “He was obviously born in the wrong century because he should be in New Orleans in the 1890s.”

Casey cuts a dapper figure in those suits and bow ties. And that idea that he was born in the wrong century makes a certain kind of sense.

“He has no air conditioning, he drives around a Nash Rambler when he drives. And most of the time he's on the bicycle, but he is a living, breathing work of art,” he said.

Angela Martinez has organized the exhibition for Mike Casey.

Mike Casey by Cruz Ortiz
Jack Morgan
Mike Casey by Cruz Ortiz

“Mike is just really well-loved in the community,” Martinez said. “He’s known as the Mayor of Southtown. And he’s just an ambassador for the neighborhood and for the arts.”

The quirky nature of Casey continues playing out here, as Southtown has no mayor because it’s a neighborhood, not a city. So why does he merit such love in Southtown, especially among artists? Martinez makes it all clear.

“He has owned several houses in Southtown, and he owns a space called The Compound, and he made that available for low rent for artists,” she said. “He also opened Sala Diaz as a nonprofit [art] gallery. Several artists at the art show have lived at the compound or have had shows there.”

Sweeney noted that The Compound isn’t just a place where artists live. It’s a place where they build community.

“It's one of those places you could just stop by on any given evening, and especially through the winter, the people would gather around the fire and the doors were open to everybody. And it was just like an art community should be,” Sweeney said.

If there’s anything that will endear you to artists, it’s giving them cheaply a space to create. So for Casey’s 80th birthday, 27 artists created portraits of him. Martinez notes the running theme in the portraits.

“So a lot of the art features seersucker or boater hats or bikes. Or all three,” she said.

Sweeney notes that while the exhibition is a way of showing affection, the artists took it seriously.

“There's a wide variety of portraits of him. And all the artists brought their A game. They just did an amazing job,” he said.

Martinez said the exhibition opening is, of course, in Southtown.

“The Gallery is at 134 Blue Star. It’s next door to the Blue Star Art Space,” she said. “It will be opening from 6 to 9 this Saturday, and then from 5 to 9 on First Thursday.”

Sweeney said in this age, where every square inch in Southtown can be bought and sold for a lot, those things which remain unchanged become even more important.

“It's really comforting to know that there's still people like him around and The Compound is still around,” he said.

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Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii