Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Founder of Urban Bush Women (UBW) is a cultural provocateur, community builder and galvanizer with a deep history of  community-to-stage work alongside award-winning choreography and dance performance.  With a 20+ year mission to “Create Dance and to Create Community” that is re-imagined year after year there is much lauded about Urban Bush Women. Find these treasures on your own BUT I will say:  UBW’s signature Summer Leadership Institute (SLI) propelled me to deepen my practice as a cultural worker invested in placemaking, gain a sense of urgency in my work and develop a critical analysis of power and privilege. Last week in New Orleans, LA,  UBW convened  SLI Alumni (1997 – present)  to reflect on the ways we’ve taken the methodologies learned here and applied them in our respective communities. Brilliant.  Jawole kicked it off with her reflections on building a net that works  (as someone who “networking” doesn’t resonate with; I really appreciated her perspective).  I strained to hold on to every word, every choreographed dip and turn. Without looking down at my journal my pen skipped across my page in an attempt to catch the gems my memory would not.

And then she started to talk about failure as a catalyst. Woah. I had to stop writing. I had to listen. She looked right at me and said,

“Jessica, our futures, dreams and best ideas sometimes come through catalytic failure.”

At least that’s what it felt like.

She went on to say that catalytic failure is the kind of  flop that changes you.  Of course you realize this only in hindsight after the bruises heal. Catalytic failure pivots you into a totally different direction… one that you wouldn’t be in had you not “failed” in the first place. The closing of a chapter  becomes a touchstone in another origin story.

Jawole  shared three steps she’s identified in leaning into catalytic failure:

  1. Make room for a recovery process;
  2. When you are ready (and maybe not so ready) engage in deep listening;
  3. Face the truth!

As a creator, some of my most  transformational/catalytic experiences were born out of what initially felt like failure. When someone asks, “How did you do X?”, I never leave those rough bits out. They make for a great story and in some ways shift a pervasive narrative that *I’m using my fancy voice* there’s no room for failure in the Arrrrrts.

A catalytic fail will happens to the best of us, hopefully. I’ll close here but use this as an invitation to bless your past, make space to take inventory and celebrate those things that did not turn out as you envisioned.

What wonderful ideas for your practice/artistry were born out of a #catalyticfail?