22

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.

2 thoughts on “22

  1. Hi Anthony, I feel compelled to respond regarding your comments regarding “duty of care” Also, as I respond in a personal capacity I will maintain the illusion of anonymity. As the project manager for the project, and as previously a youth worker in the borough you worked in I take matters of safeguarding and duty of care very seriously. On the day you recount on the barge, I do remember the youths in question throwing stones at you, the barge and me. I did not hear the conversation you had with the boys and you did not tell me explicitly what they had said. I did however hear them shout a homophobic slur at you as they walked away. Consequently, I think it is important to also recall that the incident was reported to the police stationed in the community centre and I personally raised concerns with them regarding the anti social behaviour and abuse being directed at you. If I remember rightly an officer then came to see you, We also reported it to our lead organisation who record all incidents of ASB on the canal network and feed it back to the police. Myself and the project director also repeatedly offered to bring the project to an early end in light of this and other issues regarding the viability of the project of which you have alluded to, which you chose to decline. I am very sorry to read that my comment made you feel I made light of the abuse you received .However after years of being called a fat fucking dyke and other such pleasantries by angry young men you learn to not take it personally and to remain calm in the moment to prevent the situation escalating and to deal with it through the proper channels afterwards of which I feel we did to the best of our ability.

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    1. Just to reiterate, as I say throughout, this text is not to blame anyone, but to explore my personal feelings and the affects of the infrastructure

      I do recall one time when The Institution suggested to bring to close the project early, but as I mentioned then: if we brought the project to an end, I would not be paid, nor would it be moral to pay me without doing the work. Artists live precarious lives: in some ways, we’re trapped into having to accept these projects because we need to put food on the table and in the mouths of our families. And, if we brought the project to an end, that would also prove the point of me writing this whole thing: the infrastructure could not hold a project appropriately.

      My feelings about ‘duty of care’ here are not to criticise. I do know you tried and I am guessing we ALL found it difficult: what I am getting at concerned what the infrastructure of the project could or could not handle. I think we both remember that boat trip well: I don’t think either of us should have been put in that situation and we did our best, but the reality was none of it was ideal. I know issues were reported to the police, and I know you did this to the best of your ability, but what came of that? Both of us were still abused. The police had bigger issues to deal with and probably rightly so, so the effects of that reporting – though it was done – had little affect…and that is what I’m probing at: the very structure of the situation couldn’t handle the appropriate Duty of Care.

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