This special issue of Conjunctions is edited by Leila Jancovich and David Stevenson. It explores how cultural participation policies, projects, and practices could be improved through recognising the pervasiveness of past failures. The issue thereby attempts to challenge existing narratives of unqualified success by offering alternative narratives that consider failure from different perspectives and at different points in the design and implementation of cultural participation policies and projects. In doing so it highlights the extent to which success and failure coexist and the richness of insight that comes from considering both. This matters because it is only such open and honest critical reflection that has the potential to facilitate the social learning needed for those who can exert the most power in the cultural sector to acknowledge the extent of the structural change required for cultural participation to be supported more equitably.