Success and failure often co-exist, but the stories we tell about cultural projects and policies frequently focus on narratives of success while the failures remain hidden.
These tools from FailSpace will help you to talk about and learn from failures.
Illustration by Lucy Wright
How can the cultural sector better recognise and learn from failures?
This FailSpace research from two of our Associate Directors, shows that learning from failures needs to be an integral part of creating, delivering and evaluating cultural projects and policies.
It connects closely with our co-created Evaluation Principles, which highlight the importance of learning over monitoring and understanding rather than judging. FailSpace underscores that the purpose of this learning and understanding must be to change practice.
FailSpace has developed a series of tools to help you to critically reflect on your practice, either individually or in a team.
Whether you have thirty minutes or a full day to reflect on your work, these tools will get you and your stakeholders talking productively about failures and what needs to change as a result of them.
FailSpace was led by Professor Leila Jancovich and Professor David Stevenson, both Associate Directors of the Centre for Cultural Value. It was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and took place over three years.
The project’s starting point is that cultural participation projects and policies are frequently lauded as successes. However there is little acknowledgement about what didn’t work and formal evaluation processes rarely include reflection on any failures and negative outcomes. And if we don’t talk about failures, how do we learn?
Prioritising narratives of success is often a result of a lack of honesty between participants, artists, cultural organisations and funders. Fuelled by a fear of losing funding and future work, this approach can limit risk-taking, learning and positive change towards a more equitable cultural sector.
The FailSpace team talked about failures to hundreds of policymakers, arts practitioners and participants through interviews, workshops and surveys.
They used what they learned to create a series of useful tools to help you hold honest and open conversations about failures between colleagues, artists, funders, participants, and board members.
When people say we need to be allowed to fail, I think that’s ridiculous. You know, it’s not hard. Everyone’s allowed to fail: the point is to learn from it.” Funder
Leila is Professor of Cultural Policy and Participation at the University of Leeds and Director of Research and Innovation in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries. She is an Associate Director of the Centre for Cultural Value.
David is Dean of the School of Arts, Social Sciences and Management at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh and a Professor of Arts Management and Cultural Policy. He is also an Associate Director of the Centre for Cultural Value.
Lucy is an artist with a PhD from the Manchester School of Art. Lucy conceived and illustrated the The FailSpace picture book, Welcome to the Cultural Desert.
Malaika is a theatre practitioner, founder of The Bare Company and is based at artsadmin as an Artist/Researcher. She has a PhD from the University of Leeds.
Lizzie has worked in communications and audience research in the cultural sector for many years. She is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Leeds.