In June we wrote about the grand opening of the Museum of Failure, located in Helsingborg, a mid-size city on Sweden’s southern coast. Today we highlight the fact that the museum will close on September 15—if only temporarily—before relocating to Dunkers Kulturhus, in a posh space on the city’s waterfront.
“They didn’t want to see us close and offered a space at the arts & cultural center,” begins museum curator Samuel West, referring to those individuals responsible for public relations and tourism in Helsingborg. “They saw how the museum resonated with people, not just in the innovation community but with tourists in general. A few weeks ago, a group of twenty people came from Hong Kong while on a European tour. They visited Venice, Paris, London and … the Museum of Failure. That’s not an uncommon story, for people to take a detour like that.”
Though it’s been little more than three months since the museum opened, plenty has happened in that time. In the following Failure Interview, West discusses the special events the museum has hosted, the feedback he’s received about the exhibits, and most notably, perhaps, the museum’s “failure confession booth,” where visitors unburden themselves of their failures.
Why did you decide to close the museum?
We got the current space more or less for free, but we knew that we couldn’t stay longer than mid-September. Thanks to the mass media exposure globally, we had many, many visitors this summer from all over the world. Fifty-five percent of our visitors came to Sweden only to visit the museum. The fact that people would come to Helsingborg for any reason—look at me trash talking my own town—is amazing.
The city said: We can’t allow the museum to close. So they arranged for us to move into the cultural center downtown. But we can’t move in until April. In the meantime we are going to have a touring exhibit in the United States starting the beginning of next year.
Are there any special events planned on September 15?
We are going to get drunk [laughs]. When we close on Friday, everyone who has been involved is going to drink a lot of beer and celebrate the success of the first season at the Museum of Failure.
How will the new location be different?
The space we’re moving into is at Dunkers Kulturhus, which is the premier arts & cultural center [in Helsingborg], and one of the most well-known cultural centers in Sweden. It’s a fantastic building and the exhibits will be much more professional. The exhibits are good now [see the Museum of Failure in Photos], but there is a lot of room for improvement.
You’ve hosted a few special events since opening in June. How did the tasting of failed beers turn out?
It was great fun. I love [the idea of] getting drunk on failure. We tasted seven different failed beers. Of course, any respectable microbrewery is always experimenting, and all of the beers we sampled will never make it into a bottle. It was interesting because by tasting where they failed—and telling us where they screwed up in the process— it became clear that brewing beer, like creating anything new, involves taking risks. Microbreweries have to pour out hundreds of gallons of bad beer.
What about the concert by Per Tengstrand?
World-renowned classical pianist Per Tengstrand played a concert made up of failed works by Beethoven and Mozart. He accepted the challenge and gave a kick-ass concert. It was more than him playing the music—he actually explained, for instance, how it took Beethoven several years to write his 5th Symphony, and he played some of the early versions. It was amazing to hear, because you could sort of recognize what it was, but something was wrong. You could hear how [the composition] progressed over the years—and then Tengstrand played the final version.
What has been the most popular exhibit?
The media attention has been focused on the Trump board game and the Rejuvenique Electric Facial Mask, both of which make for good TV but honestly aren’t that interesting. The feedback I get is that it’s not certain products; it’s the message of the museum. When people see failure in a new light, that makes me happy.
One thing that’s been very popular is the failure confession booth. It’s a little room where there are colorful little pieces of paper and tape. After you tour the exhibits, it’s time to confess your own failures. You write your failure on a piece of paper and then you tape it to the wall. The whole wall is covered; we had to expand it because there are so many failures.
One of the notes says, “I crashed my car on the way to the Museum of Failure.” One fellow just wrote, “My first marriage.” Underneath that one is one that says, “All three of my marriages.”
What are visitors taking away from a visit to the museum?
My original goal boiled down to two messages: we must accept failure if we want progress, and that we need to become better at learning from our failures instead of ignoring them or disassociating ourselves from it.
But it occurred to me from the feedback I’ve received that visitors feel liberated. It’s not just business groups, it’s the general visitors who feel liberated when they see how Coca-Cola has failed and that Apple is well represented at the museum. If these huge, rich companies that have all the resources in the world can fail when they try new things, people think: maybe I shouldn’t be so afraid of failure. So now that’s definitely part of the museum’s message. Let’s not glorify failure, but let’s take a new look at it and appreciate it.