Failure is something Detroit is intimately and vehemently familiar with in many ways. However, as Gabriel Richard coined as the city’s motto in 1805, Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus; or, “We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes.”
On November 21, 2013, six storytellers wove tales of heartfelt despair as an enraptured audience watched during Failure:Lab at the statuesque Detroit Opera House. Following these intimate stories, the audience responded to the tales in a manner that made sense to them on cards that were distributed on the way into the event. The stories and reactions were followed by a performance (musical or poetry) to give the audience time to recharge, and prepare to hear the next narrative. For nearly two hours, the event proceeded in this stark manner where stories moved the enthralled audience to tears or inspired a chuckle that reverberated throughout the elegant auditorium.
The event in Detroit was not the first time Michigan laid witness to raw emotion in this manner. In May, Grand Rapids was host to the first ever Failure:Lab, and it was because of that success that Detroit needed to experience these moments of intimacy and raw experience. No lessons were discussed or implied; instead, the storytellers laid bare a moment of utter despair in order to begin the important work of eliminating the stigma surrounding failure for themselves and for the audience.
Some of the presenters were well-known in the Detroit community, others just had a story that needed to be told to an audience that needed to hear it. From a singer-songwriter and record producer from the city, a marketing strategist and creative director at running his own agency, to an internationally renowned poet, publisher, activist, and playwright, the stories were something to be reckoned with and spoke to the ways the city of Detroit hopes for better things.
It was an amazing moment to see people in the community that are respected and seemingly successful bear their soulful stories in the name of propelling a community forward in conversations about failure. The selflessness was visceral and evoked feelings of camaraderie that superseded all other concerns of that evening. Whether the stories were ordinary or extraordinary, Failure:Lab opened a vein of dialogue that needs to happen in Detroit, in Grand Rapids, and in Michigan now and into the future.