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MCA Denver’s “Failure Fair” Asks Students To Take Risks

Its new exhibit-meets-scholarship program invites local high school seniors to create something—without the fear of failure.

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We’ve heard the clichés about how failure is essential to success. This may seem great in theory, but acting on it can be a different (and sometimes scary) story. That’s where the Failure Fair comes in. The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, in partnership with the Denver Foundation, is introducing the first-ever Failure Fair scholarship and exhibition. Open to all Colorado high school seniors, the fair is designed to encourage students to embrace risk.

“There’s a tremendous pressure put on high school students to succeed and have this perfect spectrum of extracurricular activities,” says Sarah Baie, director of programming for MCA Denver. “Students are not always encouraged to risk stretching themselves and getting out of their comfort zone. This failure lab is how we create something that allows kids to not be judged on what their portfolio looks like, but to try something new instead. That’s where innovation comes from—from pushing the boundaries.”

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Examples of projects that inspired the fair’s conception included everything from Victorian-style trash prom dresses to the simple positivity and openness seen from a child whose life had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. “Creativity is not just a skill for artists, but a skill for the 21st century,” Baie says. “This fair isn’t something just for visual artists, but anyone who wants to take the leap into doing something that is new for them and may not be commonly accepted or thought of in their world.”

Seniors will submit a title and description of their project and an essay on how that project is a risk for them. Supplemental materials (pictures, video, etc.) are encouraged. Students will also include letters of recommendation, an academic transcript, and a 300-word description of their vision on how they would present their project at the Failure Fair.

“The projects will be judged separately from traditional academic success,” Baie says. “We aren’t using academic prowess as a measurement. We’ll be looking into the context that the projects are created in, as well as their willingness to embrace risk and their creative, innovative spirit. If a student has a technology background and pitchs a theater production, that’s a big risk and we will be taking that into consideration. If this kid is heavily into the arts and they turn in a theater production, that’s not that big of a risk for that student because that’s what they know.”

Applications are due March 20 and 12 finalists will be selected to present at the Failure Fair in April with their physically manifested projects. From there, they will show their projects to the public (science-fair style) as well as a panel of judges made up of artists, teachers, and the board of the museum members. This panel will then select a handful of winners who will receive scholarships ranging from $500 to $10,000. These scholarships can be put toward any qualified educational expense. (We’re looking at you, textbooks.)

More: Not able to apply for the scholarship? You can still attend the fair on Saturday, April 23 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany St.; 303-298-7554

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—Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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