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Embracing the "F" Word at Failure Support Group

Marian April Glebes, Baltimore collaborator, with the Failure Support Group - Arianne Teeple
Marian April Glebes, Baltimore collaborator, with the Failure Support Group - Arianne Teeple
Whether it's a runway model tumbling in her impossibly tall heels, a pop star forgetting the lyrics to the National Anthem, or a sleepwalking dog running head-first into a wall, the failures of others keep us endlessly entertained. It's a popular phenomenon these days, largely facilitated by YouTube, which is known for viral videos in this vein. But unless you're Charlie Sheen, it can be difficult to bounce back from any kind of real misfortune by putting a spin on your failure and calling it "winning." (Especially if you're not making $2 million every week.) When faced with our own failures -- real, life-altering failures -- we tend not to spread the word or laugh as much. We tend to keep it to ourselves and maybe cry.

But there's a group of people in Baltimore that doesn't want to keep failure a secret. The Failure Support Group wants to expose it. Because apart from the virtual world of fleeting, slapstick humor, failure is also being shared in a more personal, meaningful, and pragmatic way.

Baltimore's 8th Annual Transmodern Festival will be held April 28 through May 1 at the H&H Building on West Franklin Street. In addition to the dozens of artists, performers, and merchants on display at the festival, the Failure Support Group will be there April 30 with enlightening presentations, bad snacks, and failure-wary attendees talking one another off the ledge, Alcoholics Anonymous-style.

The Failure Support Group was created by Baltimore artists Jaimes Mayhew, Marian April Glebes, and Kelley Bell in collaboration with the Institute of Infinitely Small Things, a performance group in Massachusetts that conducts creative, participatory research. The support group's intention is to provide a platform for discussion among individuals who have failed in their creative endeavors. Whether artistic, journalistic, or entrepreneurial, support group attendees will be encouraged to share their experiences with failure -- tragic or comedic -- as a way of learning from each other's less-than-successful creative attempts and dealing with their own.

"We thought it'd be interesting to talk about failure in a culture where everything is expected to be great," Savic Rašovic, Boston political activist and Failure Support Group collaborator, says. "Everyone needs to be the next great American writer or artist."

Rašovic helped put together Beantown's version of the Support Group that inspired the upcoming Baltimore event. He and project coordinator, Jaimes Mayhew, met when Mayhew was at Emerson College for a Bachelor of Arts in film. After some successful collaborative work through the Institute for Infinitely Small Things, they coordinated the first Failure Support Group.

Though its name might strongly suggest otherwise, the event was a success. Catherine D'Ignazio, Rhode Island School of Design faculty member and artist, elaborates: "One woman was upset that she hadn't published a novel by the age of 30, and she was 31. But she wrote two novels—published or not, that's a success! So we're trying to shift perspectives and expectations."

Of course, the Failure Support Group creators have had misadventures of their own. D'Ignazio and the Institute's project, The City Formerly Known as Cambridge, was a plan to rename the streets of Cambridge, inviting community members to contribute names of important people in the area. The intention was to represent the diverse culture of Cambridge. It didn't go as planned.

"The map was this gorgeous archive of the people and their city, but the minorities' voices we wanted to represent were missing," D'Ignazio says. "It was as if only white Anglo Saxons came out and participated. So we were left wondering how to include everyone in a more structured way."

Jaimes Mayhew, activist and adjunct faculty member at Towson University, will also be discussing one of his own botched projects at the Failure Support Group. He says he's comfortable putting it out there if it sparks a discussion.

"Nobody's a superman artist," he says. "It's good to acknowledge failure. If you don't recognize that there's going to be a pretty high failure rate, you should just go back to the studio and stay there."

Like all creative endeavors, the outcome of the Failure Support Group is unpredictable. But a sure sign of its potential success is its having been fully funded on Kickstarter.com, a popular fundraising site for creative projects -- a 21st century equivalent of a bake sale. Except it's calorie-free, and it works.

"I'm incredibly pleased that Kickstarter was successful because we were less than halfway funded just a week before our deadline," Mayhew says. "But I sent one last email out there and we exceeded our goal."

The irony in the fact that the Failure Support Group was a success does not escape Mayhew: "I thought it would be pretty funny if we failed to raise the money."

While falling models and wall-crashing dogs are getting their 15 minutes via YouTube, writers and artists alike are doing their own stumbling and head-to-desk bashing out of the spotlight, learning about the process as it happens. And while the Failure Support Group hasn't exactly laid out a 12-step program to serenity, it can guarantee a venue full of empathetic people, which is one step closer to sanity.


Cassie Paton is a recent Towson University graduate who grapples with the fear of failure every time she parallel parks. She blogs at www.wittytitlehere.com and tweets @WittyCassieHere.


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Photos by Arianne Teeple:

- Marian April Glebes, Baltimore collaborator, with the Failure Support Group
- An installation piece by Marian April Glebes
- Marian April Glebes works in her studio
- Failure Support Group buttons
- Jaimes Mayhew, project coordinator, with the Failure Support Group
- A motor for an installation by Jaimes Mayhew
- Jaimes Mayhew


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