Early one morning, when the project manager was visiting, I saw some youth on the tow path. I had done a workshop with some of them the day before and so waved at them, at which point they began to throw stones at me: small rocks flying at my head and making plop noises into the water. I called out, in a friendly voice, joking to defuse the situation: ‘Oi! There’s no need to get violent!’ They laughed, and one of the boys yelled back: ‘Your mother was violent last night when I fucked her, because my dick was so big.’ He was nine years old. They resumed throwing rocks, bigger ones now, and one just missed my face and I turned to avoid it. When I turned back, one of them pointed, and called me ‘Fag-Boy Cunt! You Fucking Homo! I’m going to tell everyone you touched me!’ They continued to hurl rocks and homophobic abuse at me until they passed under a bridge, out of sight. The project manager, at the other end of the barge, looked back at me and laughed, saying: ‘Well, this is all part of the fun, isn’t it?’ It did not seem fun to me.
In some ways, however, I understand what she meant: this was the reality of rough working-class towns and I could not necessarily apply my middle-class ideals to such a context. Thankfully, I have thick skin and worked in contexts like this before and so can brush off a few rocks and a few words. But what is an organisation’s responsibility to an artist in such contexts? I had just experienced a hate crime, and the institutional representative suggested I laugh it off. If a woman had had rape threats screamed at her from a gang of young men, would an organisation expect her to go back and work with those very same men? The experience raises a question about pastoral care: what are the responsibilities of the organisation that invites an artist to live and work in a difficult context? It is perhaps not an important question to explore in comparison to the ethics of participatory practices, or in relation to the societal issues faced by many citizens within these communities. But I do think it is safe to suggest that the emotional state of an artist might affect the quality of the artwork, and their ability to make work at all. It, too, is a question of infrastructure: the infrastructure of pastoral care.