Have you ever seen a city give itself over to a major sports celebration like the World Series or Super Bowl? Then you might have a sense of La Mercè, an annual event held in Barcelona that honors the patron saint la Mercè (the Virgin of Mercy). During the three-day event, which dates back to the Middle Ages, Barcelona citizens dance, parade, sing and celebrate with musicians, artists and even walking giants. I experienced La Mercè in September while I had a few days of downtime before working on a client event. La Mercè, something of a cross between Mardi Gras and Burning Man, is an example of how an immersive event can capture the imagination and spirit of an entire city.
The 2016 festival was held September 22-25. My One Smooth Stone colleagues and I landed in Barcelona as the event was in full swing. We had been aware it was happening before arriving, and it didn’t take long for us to find it. All we had to do was follow the crowds and listen for the music in the distance — an eclectic blend of drums, tambourines, guitar and even bagpipes.
The festival is spread out across the city for four days, encompassing different events, parades, human towers and the fire run, a parade filled with fire inspired costumes and showers of flame and sparks. As we walked through La Rambla, a popular pedestrian-only causeway filled with shops and vendors of all kinds, we came across the parade of the Gegants (Giants). The parade consists of incredible, larger-than-life walking paper maché figures that evoke the Macy’s Day parade. What made the Gegants parade stand out was how life-like the Gegants were, including figures of religious and historical significance:
Oh, and if you listened closely enough, you could hear parade marchers playing The Game of Thrones theme. Pop culture is everywhere! Meanwhile, the crowd was jubilant but courteous. During the parade, as well as other events, the audience was taking video and photo images, but they were being careful not to block each other.
The festival is also a celebration of art. On September 24, my colleagues and I came across a fountain in Citadel Park, festooned with white pipes forming interconnected characters. I noticed the characters were surrounded with speakers and wired with LED lights, which suggested that something interesting might happen in the evening.
The evening did not disappoint. Once darkness fell, the characters lit up in different sequences, giving the appearance of stop-motion animation. They raced across the fountain, leaped over each other, danced, and even fought, creating reflecting images in the fountain while a recorded track told a story with dialogue and music. The living art installation created something that all artists aspire to do: engage an audience. It was a beautiful moment shared among strangers gathered around the fountain.
Barcelona presented many other moments of exploration. For example, the Cementiri de Montjuïc evoked the above-ground cemeteries of New Orleans but on a mountain side.
And you can’t be in Barcelona without visiting the historic Sagrada Familia, the Roman Catholic church that remains under construction today, long after construction began in the 19th Century:
Festivals such as La Mercè can inspire anyone in the events industry to create visual stories and immersive experiences that capitalize on the natural surroundings of an environment — in this case, the sights and sounds of Barcelona. What experiences have inspired you?
Lead image source: Larry Miller via Wikipedia. Videos and all other photos are courtesy of Jonathan Williams.
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