FailSpace: How can the cultural sector learn better from failures?


Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
Wednesday 7th December 2022
9am – 5pm


Weds 7th Dec Hallé Lecture Theatre Room 2090 Room 3105 Cafe
9.00 – 9.30 coffee
Session One:
9.30 – 10.30
Welcome keynote on the research behind FailSpace: Professors Leila Jancovich and David Stevenson

Session Two:
10.45 – 12.15

Panel 1: Identifying and managing failures in major events Panel 2: FailSpace in action:
Sharing the experiences been of those partnering and championing our approach
Workshops 1 & 2:
Embracing Failure! And Sabotage! Harnessing the Power of negative results:
12.15- 13.00 lunch

Session Three:
13.00 – 14.30

Panel 1:
Are we being honest about failures when it comes to access, inclusion and diversity?
Panel 2:
Reflecting on failures in artistic practice
Workshop 3:
Playing with Failure

Session Four:
14.45 – 16.15

Panel 1:
Engaging with failure as part of evaluations
Panel 2:
Foregrounding narratives of failure as a route to learning
Workshops 4 & 5
The art of falling down and getting back up & Coaching for Failure
16.15 – 16.30 coffee
16.30 – 17.00 Closing: Professor Leila Jancovich and Professor David Stevenson



📄View printable programme


View speaker biographies


Details of sessions


Session One

Keynote: FailSpace
Time: 930 – 10.30
Location: Halle Lecture Theatre


The day will start promptly with a keynote by Professor Leila Jancovich and Professor David Stevenson who have been undertaking research on failure in the cultural sector for the last four years. They will share findings from a new open access book Failures in Cultural Participation, published by London Palgrave and introduce conference proceedings.

Session: Two

Panel 1: Identifying and managing failures in major events
Time: 10:45 to 12:15
Location: Halle Lecture Theatre
Chair: Dr John Wright



Desiree Campagna
Case studies of “failure” in the framework of the participatory processes promoted within the European Capitals of Culture
This contribution focuses on two case studies of “failure” in the framework of the participatory processes promoted within the European Capitals of Culture Program. By doing so, it challenges the optimistic and rhetorical aura surrounding the international and European discourse on participatory governance of culture by explaining why cultural participatory processes can also produce controversial and unexpected effects.



Andrew Dixon and Jonothan Neelands
Bid Failure
Many arts organisations, artists and local authorities experience ‘failure’ in bidding for funds, resources, or projects. The UK City of Culture programme has seen over 70 city bids, 17 cities shortlisted and just 4 as title holders – Derry, Hull, Coventry and now Bradford.   For some it may be seen as a ‘failure’ not to be awarded the title but past experience in EU Capitals of Culture and UK City of Culture shows that planning for alternative outcomes can turn failure into major success in places such as NewcastleGateshead, Paisley, Sunderland and Stoke.  This contribution will talk about how the journey of bids, based on strong research and public engagement can be a positive experience, regardless of the outcome.



Mark Scott
To what extent… The understanding of success and failure, through social value measurement during the UK City of Culture 2021: Insights from the implementation of a tailored social impact measurement methodology
This paper illustrates early insights into the learnings from the evaluation of Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 (UK CoC 2021), and how through a theory of change driven and formulated performance, measurement and evaluation strategy, success and failures are presented.
The theory of change allowed and allows the Trust to demonstrate the ‘To what extent…’ notion of how successful projects and cultural programmes were and erodes the concept of failure,  striking a balance between the ‘feel-good’ narrative and the  learning from failure which is critical for an improved cultural sector.



Laetitia Butler
A Story of Fragile Survival: London Borough of Culture in the Year of Pandemic and Protests
How can we build a model of cultural delivery that is responsive to external sociopolitical pressures and when do we know when to stop or keep going with a model of engagement? In this presentation based on my experience as assistant producer on Brent 2020, London Borough of Culture, I will examine the challenges of project delivery during a highly volatile political time. I will analyse the project through the lens of survival – and how pushing for survival of publicly funded arts programmes, institutions, and legacy plans might have ineffective and harmful outcomes to communities.


Panel 2: FailSpace in Action: What have the experiences been of those partnering and championing our approach
Time: 10:45 to 12:15
Location: Room 2090
Chair: Dr Alice McGrath



Celine Elliott, Cornwall Museums Partnership
Experimenting with and Embedding FailSpace
Our purpose is to create positive social change with museums; as Failspace champions over the past year we have experimented with embedding the toolkit into our internal team planning, as well as using it in our work in collaboration with museum partners across Cornwall, with organisations working on tech/innovation projects and in the USA with a cross-sectoral approach focusing on climate action. Cornwall Museums Partnership will share our experiences of the importance of context, shared values, communication, comfort (and discomfort!) as we tried to talk openly about failure.


Pamela Crowe and Joanna Jowett
FailSpace Proponents: Role-modelling and Self-disclosure
Joanna Jowett and Pamela Crowe reflect on their experience as FailSpace Champions delivering workshops in 2022. They explore the function and value of role modelling and disclosure within FailSpace; how organisations and freelancers might approach or feel able to engage in either – and ask ¬who holds the power, space and platform from which to disseminate FailSpace principles and framework through practice, ideology and discourse.


Shaun Featherstone and Rhian Haf – Arts Council Wales
Embedding learning from failure in a learning programme
Project Leads from the Creative learning programme at the Arts Council of Wales will explain how they are introducing FailSpace thinking into their work with schools and creative professionals. Examples include: delivering a FailSpace workshop to 80 of their Creative Agents who deliver Lead Creative Schools project work on the ground; linking this to and building on how the projects already embraces and celebrates risk and process as learning opportunities; exploring how to build FailSpace into the planning and evaluation framework of our projects and the wider Creative Learning Programme.


Kate Wafer Art Fund: ‘Conversations over coffee’
Art Fund’s test of FailSpace with museums and galleries in the UK
Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. It exists to help protect and enrich the UK’s museum and gallery collections and to ensure as many people as possible can access and enjoy them. During the Covid pandemic, Art Fund developed a new funding programme to support museums and galleries around the UK to ‘respond and reimagine’ their organisations in light of the crisis. As part of a wider reassessment of evaluation, monitoring and impact at Art Fund, we wanted to test whether FailSpace could provide grant-funded organisations with thinking tools to reflect and learn from these often experimental programmes. In this presentation, we’ll share (honestly!) our own FailSpace assessment of how our experiment with a new way of evaluating programmes has worked. We’ll also share what we learned and what we plan to do next.


Workshops: 1 & 2
Time: 10:45 to 12:15
Location: Room 3105


Dr Tawnya Renelle
Embracing Failure!
As a creative practitioner, educator, and owner of a small business I believe failure is essential and unavoidable. Author Lydia Yukanvitch said the following Misfits are remarkably good at invention, reinvention. Innovation in the face of what other people might see as failure. We are resilient; we don’t just survive; we invent how to thrive. It is this mindset of a misfit and commitment to innovation that drives each piece of writing I create and every workshop I teach. This workshop will focus on thriving in the face of failure. I will discuss some of my personal failures in life, business, and creative practice and will then offer insights as well as several creative writing exercises to get you engaged in a process of exploring failure. I am incredibly passionate about relating to failure with a positive attitude, I am a self-proclaimed failure and I say that with a sense of pride and hope by the end of the workshop you may be as well.


Rachel Blanche and Chrissie Ruckley
SABOTAGE! Harnessing the Power of Negative Results: Why we need Failure to Succeed
In this interactive workshop we explore the role that failure plays in any process for understanding quality, facilitating quality improvement or developing effective strategies. The session prompts delegates to explore flaws/failure and what can be learned from them. A short introduction to this topic is followed by a light-hearted exercise in groups to devise the most effective strategy to ensure failure against a particular outcome. The participants will then discuss what can be revealed by exploring failure – exploring why we suppress knowledge of what can go wrong and why, discussing the role of critical reflection in participants’ contexts, and considering ways that such sabotage might be usefully deployed in real-world settings.




Session Three


Panel 1: Are we being honest about failures when it comes to access, inclusion and diversity?
Time: 13:00 to 14:30
Location: Halle Lecture theatre
Chair: Dr Ruth Melville


Sophie Lindsey
Schools Squirrels and some sort of success: a case study of Epic Fail, a touring theatre project in Glan-Yr-Afon Primary School, Cardiff.
Epic Fail was developed in primary schools in Bristol and was selected by Moving Roots, a collective of arts organisations, to tour schools in London, Medway, Cardiff, Wigan and Peterborough. Epic Fail was conceived as a collaboration. A work that continues to be reinvented in new incarnations and configurations as it moves from school to school.
As Epic Fail encourages pupils to celebrate when you try your best, and feel okay when things go wrong, how much are those delivering the project able to take their own advice? How honest can we be about the limitations and shortcomings that emerge? And how can we fight the urge to package everything we do as a success?


RM Sanchez Camus
Social Art For Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (SAFEDI): social artists as leaders towards inclusive cultural policy
The talk will be a critical account of SAFEDI an equality, diversity and inclusion Arts and Humanities Council-funded Engagement Fellowship that responded to concerns in the wake of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and the coronavirus pandemic. During six artist commissions, artistic processes and outputs became the means to ‘translate’ experiences of exclusion, and new possibilities of access to cultural partners. Despite evidence that impacts were met, with the commissioned artists’ approaches enabling cultural partner leaders to reflect anew on their structures, provisions, intentions, practices and formal policies in relation to the people they want to reach. The question remained, why are cultural organisations failing at true inclusive access and how can social art be a catalyst for recovery from that failure?


Rosie Aspinall Priest
Has cultural policy set us up to fail?
Learning from my PhD project. My research explores the impacts that collaborative visual art projects have on young people, typically those with chaotic and complicated lives, in collaboration with the National Galleries of Scotland. Cultural policy, and in turn cultural funders, state that interventions should positively impact and change participants. However, the findings of my research suggest that young people aren’t interested in being changed. Moreover, that these anticipated changes are rarely happening. By placing the onus of change on the young people who are experiencing socio-economic inequalities, cultural policy has created a discourse that young people are the problems that need fixing. This presentation will explore, through young people’s interviews and artworks, the complex discourses created by cultural policy which have set organisations up to fail, and the potential creative solutions young people can offer to them.


Dr Elysia Lechelt
Justifying Cultural Value
In my presentation, I will discuss how we might employ Rainer Forst’s ‘Critical Theory of Justification’ as a unique approach to understanding policy failures and barriers to policy transformation. At its most basic, Forst’s theory argues that justifications shape our world, structures and practices. I suggest employing this approach can help us unpack arguments around cultural value in many important ways. To demonstrate how we may ground Forst’s theory in research, I will discuss how I use the framework to critique two middle cities’ justifications for public support for the arts and what these particular rationalisations reveal about failures to advance alternative notions of cultural value.



Panel 2: Reflecting on Failures in artistic practice
Time: 10:45 to 12:15
Location: Room 2090
Chair: Bryan Beattie


Steph Meskell Brocken
New innovations Programme
In Spring 2022, Peshkar joined a Zoom call with three European partners to discuss an upcoming project. This was an exciting moment full of energy and enthusiasm. Between this first meeting and the conclusion of the project in July 2022, there were several other meetings, each one seeing the atmosphere dip gradually as the challenges of planning and organising a post-COVID exchange with limited budget, post-Brexit travel issues and travel anxiety to contend with. As a small arts organisation, with a strong track record of International working in the time of Arts Council NPO decision-making, we had a drive throughout to paint a cheerful and positive veneer across all the communications both internal and external relating to this project. This paper will describe the issues that were faced in the project, those caused by external factors and those heightened by the existing tensions of International working and seek to interrogate where the stumbling blocks occur for UK partners and how we talk about these.


Irineu Destourelles and Natalia Palombo
Joint and individual reflections on how to characterise failure and success beyond established guidelines, and strategies to develop guidelines that are project specific
Based in the rural market town of Huntly since 1995, Deveron Projects links artists and communities through a wide range of socially engaged arts projects. The project, Does It Fall From the Skies Above, is Irineu’s response to an open call by Deveron Projects under the topic Room to Fail. Based on conversations to be had with stakeholders in relation to the project’s development, success, failures and desired future actions, Natalia and Irineu reflect on how we identify failures; which failures should be embraced; and which should be mitigated?


Tina Louise Hove Sørenson
Learning from failure in large-scale participatory art projects at Trapholt Museum
Since 2014 Trapholt Museum of modern art and design (Denmark) has developed a large-scale participatory practice involving up to 1000 participants in craft-based collaborative art projects. This unique practice, that combines relational and artwork-oriented practices and fits right into current norms of participatory art and democratization of cultural institutions, is being further developed and explored in CraftWorks (2021-2024) – a Velux-funded research collaboration between Trapholt and Aarhus University. Our presentation focuses on theevaluation and learning process going from project A to project B. We would like to share some of the new perspectives we gained, when applying the FailSpace-toolkit, but also discuss some of the challenges that arise, when going from reflection to change of practice.


Dr Nicky Hatton and Benjamin Owen
‘Finding the sense of a beginning’: failure and improvisation in arts practices in care homes
This presentation considers the role of failure in participatory arts practices with older people in care homes, including those who are living with dementia. Drawing on our creative practice in care settings, it explores how collaboration can involve a series of mistakes, misunderstandings, small steps, and everyday acts of creativity which are tangled together. These moments, we argue, exist simultaneously – and precariously – on a tightrope of success and failure which can leave artists feeling lost and that they are not making any progress. This precarity is, however, an intrinsic part of the practice, which requires them to become comfortable with uncertainty and attuned to the creativity that is inherent in the everyday lives of those living in care. Drawing on Gary Peter’s philosophy of improvisation, and the anthropologists’ Elizabeth Hallam and Tim Ingold’s concept of cultural improvisation, we share some tricky moments from our practice, and how we have come to think about some of them as ‘conflicted successes’.


Workshop: 3
Time: 13:00 to 14:30
Location: Room 3105


Tom Bevan, Susanne Burns, and Corinne Micallef
FailSpace Champions Playing with Failure
This workshop will adopt a playful approach to how we talk about, experience and use failure to generate improvement in our work and practice. We will explore how we react to failure at a personal level, how we talk about it with others, what we do with it and what the implications of this are for ourselves as well as the wider sector. The workshop will be led by three FailSpace Champions – Tom Bevan, Producer; Corinne Micallef, Senior Programme Producer A New Direction and Susanne Burns, Independent Consultant


Session Four


Panel 1: Engaging with failure as part of evaluations

Time: 14:45 to 16:15
Location: Halle Lecture Theatre
Chair: Dr Emma McDowell



Dr Louise Ejgod Hansen
Attracting young participants – a shared failure?
The paper addresses the challenge of attracting young people to cultural centres around Denmark and to engage them in activities as well as decision-making processes and volunteering. The analysis is built on DELTAG, a participatory citizen science research and development project that during 2019-2021 engaged 27 managers, employees and volunteers in gathering data on cultural participation in their own cultural centre. Through the process, the co-researchers developed their understanding of the different forms and values of participation in cultural centres. However, the positive values documented in the project does not mean that they do not experience challenges. One of the ones shared in most cultural centres, is the participation of young people. This is the failure I want to address in this paper. The purpose is twofold: First of all to address my reluctance to address failures as a part of a collaborative research project. Secondly I will discuss the influence of the impact agenda as well as the research ethics of doing so in order to qualify the way in which we understand critical academic findings and its consequences in practice.


Celine Schall
The role and limits of evaluation in the recognition and use of failure: An attempt at self-criticism
In the Western cultural field, evaluation is a standard practice. Its interests have been widely debated and demonstrated (i.e.: Daignault ed., 2011, Duclos 2022), in particular, for identifying failures and thus, eventually, correcting them. Based on our own evaluations in this field, we will examine the contributions, but above all the limits of the latter, in the constitution of a specific culture of failure. Firstly, we will quickly show how evaluations allow us to identify failures that are very easy to correct, using two specific examples of evaluations we have undertaken. We will then present a work in progress, around the following question: when it is not possible to say the failure, how to try to rectify it? Can mistakes be solved when they are not told? Can it be said that some mistakes simply cannot be resolved by the evaluation and are doomed to be repeated?


Chris Fremantle
What if calling something a failure is missing the unexpected?
Failure is a trope in the arts and innovation, celebrated through bon mots, most often from Samuel Beckett – “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Beckett 1983) and from different entrepreneurs (e.g. Richard Branson).
Embracing failure is a necessary dimension of indeterminacy of outcome, and indeterminacy is a necessary condition for change or novelty. But change and novelty in themselves do not necessarily represent success or failure – that is determined by the expectations we have. Research undertaken with staff at Gray’s School of Art (2011) highlighted various constructions of failure in their thinking: 1. Questioning of the concept of failure, specifically, considering if failure is an end-point or part of an overall trajectory; 2. the potential to learn from failure; 3. the role of failure in assessment. This was published as ‘Owning Failure’ (Fremantle and Kearney 2015). Drawing on this research and more recent work on failure and mental health, this presentation will consider encompassing failure within pedagogy and evaluation with a particular focus on how accepting the possibility of failure means reconsidering expectations.


Dr Malaika Cunningham
How do we embed qualitative and arts-based evaluation approaches within arts organisations in the UK?
Since autumn 2021 Malaika has been working with the staff of Artsadmin to design new templates for arts-based and qualitative evaluation within the organisation, as part of this work they have created a ‘Critical Friend’ template and have been leading training sessions on different methodologies. Her role on this project will conclude in spring 2023, so the Failspace Conference comes at the perfect time to reflect on how the first year of this work has gone, what the key issues have been, and to look ahead to leaving a lasting legacy for this work. She will present on her practice-based residency with Artsadmin, ‘Embedding Reflection’, which asks ‘How can we embed qualitative and arts-based evaluation approaches within arts organisations evaluation processes?’ This brief presentation will outline the project, what’s working, and what the key issues have been.



Panel 2: Foregrounding narratives of failure as a route to learning
Time: 14:45 to 16:15
Location: Room 2090
Chair: Dr Ali Fitzgibbon


Professor Olivia Sagan
UnHealthy Arts? Narratives of failure in the Outsider Arts
By the 2000s Outsider Art had become a tour de force inside the art world. The insider/outsider binary had become at best smudged and debated; at worst, problematic and exploitative, with the art world cashing in on art often created in poverty and isolation. It remains for some, an example of the appropriation by powerful agents of the creative expression of the socially excluded. This paper takes a critical look at the trajectory of Outsider Art, questioning its positioning(s) and discourse, and what Kwon (2002) calls its “lust for authentic histories and identities”. This paper draws on narrative accounts with artists who spoke of the experience of being or not being an outsider artist. Amongst many, many other things (Sagan, 2014) they spoke of failing to identify as an Outsider Artist, or of failing to be accepted as such. Often, they spoke of just being made to feel failure. Whose failure they were feeling remains an interesting question.


Dr Anthony Schrag
Kill Your Darlings: the failures of public museums to be public
This presentation takes as it starting point in recent anthology “The Failure of Public Art and Participation” which brings together practicing artists, curators, activists, art writers, administrators, planners, and educators from around the world to offer differing perspectives on the many facets of *failure* in the commissioning, planning, producing, evaluating and engaging communities within the continually evolving field of art in the public realm. The presentation will begin by presenting an overview of the major themes contained within the anthology, and then will explore these themes through the lens of a recently completed project artist Anthony Schrag undertook with the Perth Museum and Art Gallery. While presented as a ‘successful’ project in its completion, Schrag will juxtapose some of the themes explored within the anthology with this project in order to extract learnings about its ‘failure’ and ‘successes’. It will analyse and reflect on the internal and external pressures against ‘failing’, especially those from a local authority/civic perspective. It hopes also to reflect on the impact these decisions this might have on artists engaged and commissioned to undertake work within such contexts.


Henry Mulhall
Two Forms of Failure – Reflections on Writing a Protocol for Socially Engaged Participatory Projects Across Europe.
In this presentation, I will discuss the idea that there can be several types of failure during socially engaged art projects and paying attention to these distinctions could help us learn more from our failures. I will situate these concerns within a case study of the BE PART Protocol workshops and drafting sessions I have been taking part in since July 2021.
Through this lens I will discuss two types of failure:
1) Failure when a person or project tries to present something and for whatever reason, it misses the mark. I will call this a specific failure.
2) Failure that is part of a creative process, perhaps when working collaboratively or in groups, I will call this abstract failure.
Accepting and recognising both forms of failure is valuable. However, my experience of working on the protocol suggests that if abstract failure in process takes over our attention and we move away from offering any concrete ideas, or suggestions, the protocol will not have much practical value.


Dr Sophie Hope
Beyond creative methods: Going public with stories of failure
As a practice-based researcher and evaluator exploring questions of failure, disappointment, and uncertainties in the participatory, socially engaged art project, I am interested in how we ‘go public’ with this research, which modes of dissemination we use and if/where our work can have an impact. For this presentation, I give a brief overview of a book I am writing about meetings; my attempt to go public with the construction of success and failure in the context of socially engaged art. Rather than focusing on artworks, the book foregrounds the bureaucratic beyond of socially engaged art as an essential, yet often hidden aspect of British art history. This is where, I argue, the art of social (dis)engagement can be experienced and (mis)understood.



Workshops: 4 & 5
Time: 14:45 to 16:15
Location: Room 3105


Lesley Wood and Mac Ince – Artswork
The art of falling down and getting back up again
The workshop will consider
Why falling down or failing hurts
Why falling down or failing is okay really and is in fact a good thing
How systems thinking can help us prepare for the bumps and bruises
How embracing a reductionist thinking process can help us to get back up again


Morvern Cunningham and Johnny Gailey – Out Of the Blue
Coaching for failure
Join Johnny Gailey and accredited Relational Dynamics 1st accredited coach Morvern Cunningham as they discuss how practitioners might bring their own experiences and knowledge into conversations about failure. Using active listening as an exercise, attendees will get an insight into one approach that potentially avoids the pitfalls and potential avoidance of responsibility when discussing what or who failed. Johnny and Morvern will then lead a discussion that includes their experience of both facilitating conversations about failure, as well as conducting FailSpace exercises in their own projects.