to fail and fail big: 5 Years Later

Introduction | 5 Years Later | Conclusion

The end of 2018 marks five years since the launch of The Field’s publication to fail and fail big: A Study of Mid-Career Artists, Success and Failure.

We at The Field are curious. Where are these 5 artists now? What has changed? What has remained the same? Our retrospect includes updates from the five original artists, Okwui Okpokwasili, David Herskovits, Young Jean Lee, Miguel Gutierrez, and Somi, whom we asked to reflect on the shifts they’ve experienced 5 years later. Their reflections, shared in both video and written form, encourage us to continue to reflect on what we (the big we, arts administrators, funders, producers, other artists, audience, donors, presenters, agents, etc.) are asking of artists and what can we do to help artists thrive.

We look back to look forward, and consider how artists lean into success or failure, with varying degrees of privilege, capacity, and sustainability.

To recap our intentions for the original study:

  • Why the original study? 
    Our goal is to discern the conditions that create success, so that we can replicate these conditions for more artists. In doing so, we can help more artists thrive.
  • What is this study about?
    How do mid-career artists succeed? What are the conditions that created their success? It’s not magic but there are some unspoken truths and not so romantic notions that push one artist toward success and another toward invisibility.
  • Who is this study for?
    It’s for The Field and it’s for the field. For us at The Field, this Study is inward and outward. What we learn from this Study will impact the services we provide, how we provide them and possibly, who we provide them to. Outwardly, the Study will impact our advocacy for artists to the larger sector. For the field, it’s for artists who want to examine why they are (or aren’t) succeeding. It’s for funders who want to have a stronger impact. It’s for presenters, residency providers, donors and board members who feel like they aren’t quite getting it right.
  • Who were the original artists and why and how did we choose them?
    For the purposes of this Study we limited our scope to artists who make live arts and who live primarily in New York City’s five boroughs. We looked for artists who make music, theater, performance art, dance, puppetry, performance poetry, multi-disciplinary and hybrid work. A disclaimer on the scope of our Study The Field works mostly with the world of “downtown” live art and “experimental” work. While our Advisory Council extends from Harlem Stage to the Chocolate Factory, from LMCC to The Map Fund and beyond, it’s all of a certain aesthetic. So this Case Study does not, in any way, purport to present art and artists from all of New York City. It’s a small glimpse of a small world with distinct biases and frames.

5 Years Later - Where are we now?

To begin our retrospect, we sent a survey with instructions to complete a smart phone video response to selected questions. This was only given to the five artists highlighted five years prior. Due to touring, scheduling, and time, we were able to catch up with David Herskovits (Founder and Director of Target Margin Theatre) and Miguel Gutierrez (choreographer, composer, performer) for video responses. The remaining artists were able to share a brief snapshot of what they have been up to as well. 

Miguel Gutierrez

David Herskovits

Young Jean Lee

Young Jean Lee photo by Blaine Davis.jpgYoung Jean Lee regretfully declined to participate due to a very busy schedule. Her play, Straight White Men, premiered on Broadway during the summer of 2018.  

Since 2013 Lee has:

  • Presented and toured Untitled Feminist Show, and Straight White Men all over the world.
  • Released a debut album, We’re Gonna Die, in 2013 with band, Future Wife.
  • Released first short film, Here Come the Girls in 2013.
  • In 2018, became the first female Asian-American playwright produced on Broadway for Straight White Men.

Photo credit: Blaine Davis


by Executive Director, Jennifer Wright Cook

“I had never before been able to imagine the possibility of financial health... I only thought that I would be in the struggle from year-to-year.” Artist Miguel Gutierrez says this in Part 2 of his video response to to fail and fail big. He goes on to say, “I want agency to really direct my career in the way I want... I am just reactive to opportunities that come my way.”

These words kill me. They break my heart. It feels like nothing changes from 2013 to now, from 2003 to now. From 1993 to now.

Is it getting better for anyone? For the long-term? Holistically?

Or is the system itself so broken that no one can ever really really prosper? Can anyone really imagine a future of financial health? A future where we really have agency? Where we aren’t just reactive to the vagaries and trends of the system?

It’s true here at The Field too. I’m in my 14th year on staff and I still feel reactive and struggling. The scarcity mindset pervades nearly everything we do all the time. It’s the very water we drink.

Watch out world. Since early 2018 we have been hard at work with the brilliant Yancey Consulting on a Visioning Process that has kicked our butts. We analyzed our services, what’s urgent, what’s most needed, who are we and where we should evolve. The information from this 5th anniversary retrospective and the emerging artists surveyed added much needed lived experience to our Vision data-gathering. Our soon-to-be-revealed Vision for the Future incorporates all this information and analysis, and pushes us to address the devastating gaps in the arts and culture system that prevent artists from fully prospering holistically and for the long-term. All of this work combined will push The Field to our next highest level of services for artists - and, we believe, it will transform arts services for years to come.

You’ll hear more soon about where our work is headed but for now thank you to Miguel, Somi, David, Okwui and Young Jean for pushing us to risk and grow. Thank you to Evelyn and Zavé for sharing your thoughts as emerging artists. Thank you to all the artists who push us every day with their hopes and dreams. It’s time to let it all fly.

to fail and fail big: 5 Years Later

Prepared by Program Associate Melanie Greene