Thu. Jun 30th, 2022

The Chinatown Business Improvement Association and Vancouver Mural Festival are trying to change the narrative in the heritage neighborhood plagued by graffiti by building bridges through art.

When members of the Chinese Community Policing Center joined more than 100 volunteers Saturday for Chinatown’s annual clean up, they noticed a sign of change at the rear of a business in the 100-block of East Pender Street.

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“We see this and we are inspired,” Chinese CPC executive director Janssen Ong told Global News.

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Downtown Eastside graffiti artist Jamie Hardy, aka Smokey Devil or Smokey D, recently dedicated an alley painting to Vancouver business icon Jack Chow, who died in February 2021 at the age of 90.

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The tribute to Chow, who opened Jack Chow Insurance in 1962 after starting his career as a realtor, is accompanied by the message: “Respect Chinatown.”

Well-known Downtown Eastside street artist Smokey D poses with a mural he painted in Chinatown urging respect.

Global News

“It means if you come down here, you do not have to just paint all over everything and make a big mess and stuff,” Smokey D told Global News.

“Like vandalize it all. Look at it, it’s terrible, ”he said pointing to random tagging near his street art.

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Although unsanctioned according to the local BIA, Smokey D’s gesture is getting positive reviews in Chinatown, where the Vancouver Police Department has documented a 300 per cent spike in graffiti.

“I think that sends a strong message throughout the community and I think it’s important,” Deputy Chief Const. Howard Chow told Global News Saturday.

“It’s not good enough just to stay quiet about issues like this in particular when it relates to hate crime.”

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“It was unauthorized but it was done with good intention, and I think we have to respect that,” added Vancouver Chinatown BIA President Jordan Eng.

“There is a balance and I understand that was a form of outreach, especially with the mural that was defaced.”

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In April, Smokey D joined community members to help repaint a culturally significant mural that was targeted by taggers in mid-March.

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“It’s very immature you know.”

Smokey D said the blatant tagging of the Chinatown mural was “straight vandalism” and acts like it give graffiti a bad name.

“They just came in there and did not do any sort of art or anything. They just sprayed right over top of the art and that’s not cool, ”he told Global News.

“That’s really disrespecting their culture.”

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Smokey D said he’s hoping to see a legal venue set up for graffiti artists to make their mark in Vancouver so that their work does not end up on people’s storefronts.

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He said he’s also willing to support a restorative justice approach and work with individuals charged and convicted of graffiti mischief, if they are sentenced to community service hours instead of jail time.

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“I’ll take them out and we’ll paint over some of the things, and then once they’re finished, the charge is abolished, right,” he said.

In the meantime the Vancouver Mural Festival has launched the Chinatown Mural Project in collaboration with the BIA.

Chinese-Canadian illustrator and mural artist Carolyn Wong created the first mural, “Fu Lu Shou Xi” or Four Blessings, on Ten Ren Tea & Ginseng Company’s six rolling shutters, which had previously been repeatedly tagged.

Artist Carolyn Wong stands with one of her murals in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown.

Global News

“Each animal is actually commonly kind of associated with these blessings in Chinese culture,” Wong told Global News Saturday.

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The four characters: an ox, deer, cranes and peonies, represent happiness, wealth, longevity and prosperity to the surrounding Chinatown community.

Since the murals were painted in late April, Wong said she’s been pleasantly surprised they have been respected and remain untouched.

“Having some artwork up like this that’s just so colorful and vibrant and bright, I think it really changes the atmosphere,” Wong said.

“It’s like a street art gallery in a sense.”

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Smokey D told Global News he is going to try and collaborate with Chinatown muralists on a painting in the neighborhood, while the Chinese CPC will soon be launching a graffiti removal project to clean up select areas of Chinatown.

“What we want to do is to really address the graffiti vandalism… that does not carry the right messages,” Ong said.

Smokey D said there’s a space for everyone but there must be boundaries, and urged younger members of the graffiti community to give Chinatown a break.

“I do not understand why people can not just like leave the six blocks alone,” the legendary Vancouver street artist said.

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“It’s just tasteless, I mean, like having some respect for yourself and other people.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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