Video: Behind the Scenes at the Innovation Lab for Museums Round 2 Retreat

This past fall, three teams participating in the EmcArts Innovation Lab for Museums attended a 5-day Intensive Retreat, which was an opportunity for each team (composed of 8 to 10 staff, board, artists, community members, outsiders and experts) to accelerate their projects by getting away from the stresses of the daily grind.

These Intensive Retreats are transformational. Teams are often able to do six months of thinking in a week, and immediately deal with the conflicts that inevitably surface as change begins to look real. They achieve unstoppable momentum in a way that might never would have happened otherwise, and have therefore been able to construct a plan for implementation that maximizes their chances of success.

The short video above features interviews with team members from The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Mississippi Museum of Art, and Madison Children’s Museum, as they reflect on the Intensive Retreat experience.

We’ll be posting updates on all of these projects as they unfold, and more about the process of organizational innovation. Stay tuned!

Karina Mangu-Ward is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at EmcArts.

  • It’s great to hear someone say, “Failure is what we want. We actually want failure.”

    Henry Ford said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

    Over at, Tom Daccord and Justin Reich of EdTeacher, explore the cycle of experiment and experience. One of the first suggestions is to “remove the fear of failure.”

    We’ve heard about the fear of success preventing one from accomplishing goals. To me, fear of success is actually the fear of failure. The times I’ve been most successful were when I threw caution to the wind, ended my relentless risk assessing, and simply made the work.

    Recently, I’ve been interested in the concept of “the joy of failure.” How can we celebrate the moments that don’t go well? If we re-frame failure as a success, everything we do is a triumph.

    • Rachel

      I thought that Jim Mathews made a great point when he talked about making a specific space to prototype new ideas at his museum. This really illustrates that crucial shift in frame-of-mind that this retreat seems to work towards: that innovation and change must by constant in order for an organization to thrive and meet evolving challenges. By delineating a kind of experimental space where failure is expected, all of the perceived stakes of failure are removed and failing really does become success because it’s fulfilling the very purpose of that experimental space.

  • Failure is what we want and for some arts and culture organizations, it’s what we got. Failure creates opportunities: to learn, to un-learn, to grow, to let go, to gain (e.g. insight & new tools), to lose (e.g. assumptions & obstacles), to change and many more active verbs.

    It borders on hubris to believe that things will stay the way WE want them: comfortably predictable. Change can no longer be ignored or the fact that WE no longer set and control the pace of change, no matter if WE are museum professionals, executive directors, board members or funders. This worldview is failing due to obsolescence and if that POV continues unopposed than many arts and culture organizations will continue to decline into irrelevance.

    Maybe failure isn’t the right term for our purposes. It might be better stated as “planning for obsolescence”

  • I like the concept behind what he says but I also like to avoid the word “failure” because it has such a negative connotation for most people and especially in the nonprofit world, we can slip into a victim mode too often. I prefer to think that we need to try and try and try multiple approaches and sift through them for the ones we want to bring to scale, or keep or abandon. That’s not failure – that’s research and innovation!

  • I want to live in realities, no matter how harsh or how invigorating, not in niceties that blunt the problems and consequences. The negative perceptions that further estrange the public from our organizations are the ones that come from the loss of history, arts and culture institutions due to mismanagement and or the inability to adapt to change.

    Failure is not a bad word, even if it describes the realities of many history, arts and culture institutions. It is a good word, if one is ready and able to build and create, especially if opportunities can be found in the under-served and under-represented. Success is begotten by failure. Failure litters the ground of innovations past, but it does not deter the disruptive innovators we revere today or will tomorrow.