Local Artist Spotlight: Mandi Caskey
In April 2019, Mandi Caskey completed a six-story mural for Gravity titled “Day Dreams.” At 90 feet, the mural depicts a panorama of an enchanted forest, featuring butterflies, fish and a young woman with doe and buck deer heads encountering a creek.
The mural would have taken Caskey four weeks to complete, but with construction, the project took even longer. Caskey also couldn’t use a lift. Instead, she climbed 90 feet of scaffolding to complete the piece.
“It’s pretty intense,” she says. “And for me, I’m like, well, how can we do more of that?”
After a stint at the Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD), and getting her name out in Columbus’ art scene with the help of a mentor, Caskey began working as a full-time muralist in 2014. Since then, she has completed works around Columbus and throughout the Midwest. Recently she ventured as far as Tulsa, OK to complete a mural at the Habit Mural Festival.
While Caskey travels around the country doing work, she expresses frustration in how few opportunities there are for mural work in Columbus. She says between Kaufman Development (Gravity) and CASTO (River & Rich), some developments are making an effort, and have an understanding and desire for more public art.
“I find that there’s a lot of places, other cities that are similar size or even smaller, that are gravitating to this idea that public art is the culture fueler,” says Caskey. “I feel like the general public doesn’t understand that we don’t have authentic public art. I mean, if you look around, we don’t even have a graffiti culture. Our underground culture is being strangled essentially, and they’re surviving somewhere else.”
Adding onto her frustrations is the inclusion of public art in conversations about gentrification and affordable housing. In April, she called out The Columbus Dispatch on her Facebook page for using a photo of her mural as the featured image of an article discussing Gravity’s affordability. The Dispatch has since changed the photo, but Caskey says the insinuated connection between the two gives public art a negative connotation.
“Putting my name to something or putting any artist’s name to that — it really deters from the point of what they’re trying to do. And it’s really sad, especially when you have a city that doesn’t have a strong public art presence,” she says.
That’s not to say she doesn’t think the conversation is important. She understands where everyone is coming from, she says.
“I want those conversations to happen, but in a very purposeful and meaningful way, not attacking,” says Caskey. “For local muralists that are involved, they’re just living. And I want to get that across, that we’re not here to make anything worse or push anybody out.”
When it comes to the arts scene in Franklinton, Caskey sees the situation differently than, say, the Short North. She’s personally been asked to apply for mural work in the neighborhood but says doing so wouldn’t fit her morals.
“I know that doesn’t make any sense. I mean, it makes sense to me; I didn’t feel comfortable creating artwork in an area of the city I couldn’t afford to live in,” she says. “Sure, I feel an obligation as somebody that is advocating for more street art and stuff like that, but also, I want meaningful street art.”
Having the ability to display gallery-grade art to people through unpolished, accessible, public venues is something that Caskey is willing to advocate for. She sees public art as the answer and a way to bridge conversations.
“I feel like if I just say I want to paint, then nothing really changes. I’m not going to be able to survive here. And that’s not what I want to do,” she says. “Especially as somebody that creates big things, I want to make sure that I can not only house my work here but also house a culture. Where girls that go to CCAD want to become a muralist, it’s more of a tangible thing.”
Because Caskey fears the conversation around public art will continue to veer away from the point, she wants to be more equipped to articulate her feelings and eliminate any negative connotation. But she thinks Columbus has the means to take away that negative stigma, and simply enjoy art for art’s sake.
“When a city feels comfortable with expressing itself, with colors, with paint, with music, that means it’s thriving,” she says. “That influence on people is, it’s there. And it’s obvious when you have that interaction.”
Caskey is set to do mural work at the Columbus Arts Festival, June 7 to 9, 2019. She is also doing work for a room in the Otherworld experimental art installation, opening to be determined. For more information on Caskey, visit birdyco.com.