June 14, 2023

Meet Jessica Leal!! MCA Denver's 2023 Failure Award Scholarship Recipient


The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver’s annual Failure Award Scholarship awards a $20,000 college scholarship to a Colorado high school senior who demonstrates and embraces the spirit of creative risk-taking in the pursuit of something new. While so much of student life is focused on achievement, MCA Denver believes that in order to create something original and authentic, it is necessary to risk failure. 

Jessica Leal from Denver is the 2023 recipient of the Failure Award Scholarship. Through her artwork, Jessica showcased what it means to take risks for creative self-expression, storytelling, and stepping out of her comfort zone to share her narrative with others. I had the pleasure of emailing Jessica to learn more about her award-winning artwork, El Corazon, and the lessons learned through failure.

Photo of a young woman standing at a podium that is filled with balloons. She is onstage in front of a giant white screen that says "El Corazon" Jessica Leal

image: Jessica Leal at the Failure Award Scholarship Presentation in April. 2023. Photo by Nikki Rae Photography


Hi Jessica! How have you been doing? 

Hi Tai! I’m doing great! Enjoying my last summer before I go to college!

Congratulations on being the 2023 recipient of the Failure Award Scholarship! Why did you feel it was important to share your creative project, El Corazon, for the application? 

Thank you so much! I thought El Corazon was a great project to not only share my story and heritage, but to share the story of many in my community. I chose the heart to incorporate the hardships and difficulties immigrants face when coming to America, whether it is leaving what we love back in our countries, such as family and memories, or the love we still have for our culture in a country full of diversity. 

What inspired El Corazon

In preparation for this project I knew I wanted to incorporate my culture. One day my school had an activity where anyone was welcome to play Loteria, a card game of chance with Mexican roots. That day I met new friends, and it brought many people together. Within that activity there was that sense of community, which really inspired me to create this piece. This game brings people together to show that we are not alone. My experience has made me understand how to proudly say who I am and where I’m from.

a photo of a young woman and her family. she is holding a crafted heart on a gold background called El Corazon

image: Jessica Leal (center) holding "El Corazon" surrounded by her family. 2023.Photo by Nikki Rae Photography


How did creating El Corazon allow you to be expressive in communicating your feelings over other forms of art? How are vulnerability and failure connected? 

In my experience, migrating to the United States at a young age wasn't easy. The culture shock impacted me drastically. Art has helped me cope and explore my innermost emotions, thoughts, and ideas in response to a difficult language barrier. Visual art made expressing myself easier than explaining with words. I’ve always learned to create with what I have, so with this piece I utilized items from around my house. In El Corazon, vulnerability and failure are connected. 

During my presentation I felt vulnerable talking about my process creating El Corazon. It was my first time working with mediums like cardboard and fabric, which felt reminiscent of my story immigrating to a new country. This was a new experience where I didn’t have all the knowledge in navigating my first steps. When taking the first steps to anything new, I've had to be vulnerable to the challenges that I would inevitably face. Also, through my creation, I ran into challenges similar to learning English as a second language and working through cultural differences. I've experienced failure but only learned and grew from those experiences. 

What does the Failure Award Scholarship mean to you? What are some of the lessons you have learned through this process? 

It encouraged me to create something new and different. It made me not be scared of trying new things. I realized that something I thought was a setback became a step forward. As a first generation student, the Failure Award Scholarship allows for higher education to be accessible and will allow me to continue art in my own way.

teens standing on stage in a row, in front of a white screen.

image: Failure Award Scholarship Presenters. 2023. Photo by: Nikki Rae Photography


Who/What influences your creative practice? 

My roots and culture influences my creative practice. I don’t have a formal art education, so a lot of my creative practice comes from what I encounter everyday and the people who have helped and motivated me.

The future looks bright for you, Jessica! What are you looking forward to for the rest of the year?

I'm excited to start college! I'm thinking of majoring in Psychology in pursuit of becoming an Art Therapist. I’m also thinking of working during the summer helping my community with the company of my family!

Be in the know for when applications for the 2024 Failure Award Scholarship!

Follow MCA Denver on Instagram and for more awesome teen things, click here.