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Smokey D to speak at new graffiti class at Emily Carr University

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Emily Carr University will offer its first-ever class on the art of graffiti next semester, and local graffiti artist Smokey D has been invited to be a guest speaker.

Garnet Hertz, a professor at Emily Carr who will instruct the class, said the program will explore the subculture and practices of graffiti and may even offer some hands-on experience in legal spaces to try it out.

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Hertz, also Canada’s Research Chair in Design and Media Arts, said there’s been a lot of interest in the course, which will also include creating a hard copy publication by the end of term.

He said Smokey D, who is well known for his spectacular murals memorializing those who have died in B.C.’s toxic drug crisis, won’t be teaching the course, but he will be a guest artist and a community graffiti mentor.

“Smokey is the star of the show,” he said. “He’s wanted to go to art school forever. And he hasn’t had a lot of exposure to university. So this is an opportunity for him to see what it’s like.”

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The graffiti artist Smokey D Photo by Francis Georgian /PNG

Hertz acknowledged that a lot of the current graffiti in the community is illegal, but he said he will not be encouraging the students to do anything illegal.

“We will be discussing a lot of work that’s illegal, but I don’t endorse anybody going out to go get arrested or anything, you know. You will be fined. It’s not fun. It’s not a game. It’s not cool … but at the same time we are going to be talking about how public spaces are used,” he said.

“There are a lot of difficult topics that come up with graffiti like race-based issues … and I want to address it because it’s something that you see every day, but you don’t really think about.”

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Smokey D said he’s excited to speak to the class, and is considering enrolling at Emily Carr if he likes the experience. He said he’d love to learn other art forms, such as sculpting.

He said he doesn’t think that having classes on graffiti takes away the street credibility of the underground movement.

“I think it’s really great how street art is becoming more mainstream. It’s better this way,” he said, adding this is a way to address violence and social ills.

“This class will be really successful I think,” he said. “I’m really excited. I’ve always wanted to go to Emily Carr.”

In March, the City of Vancouver proclaimed March 11 Smokey D Day, and presented James Hardy, who goes by the name Smokey the Devil, a framed declaration at city hall.

Hardy was recognized for 25 years of community service in the DTES through murals that inform the public about the opioid crisis, COVID-19 and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

With files from Sarah Grochowski 

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James Hardy, the graffiti artist known as Smokey Devil, stands with his son after attending a city proclamation that declared March 11, 2023 as Smokey D. Day Photo by Sarah Blyth /jpg

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