La Mercè in times of pandemic
In the context of major event cancellations, La Mercè, one of the biggest celebrations in Barcelona, was reinvented in order to celebrate an event long awaited for by the city’s residents. In order to adapt to health measures and deal with the pandemic, La Mercè 2020 courageously and innovatively implemented the necessary changes.
This year, La Mercè will be remembered for a poster showing a young girl wearing a mask -a fact that is already part of our daily lives- and who smiles through the image of a locust. The poster has highly symbolic content, based on the mythical origins of the festival. The citizens of Barcelona placed their trust in La Mercè, the patron saint of the city, when a plague of locusts invaded in 1687.
This innovative and health-safe Mercè maintained the three main elements of the celebration: (1) music, (2) popular and traditional culture, and (3) street arts. However, each one was adapted to some extent, with some events more affected than others. As is the norm in the cultural world at the time of COVID-19, most of the events of this year’s festival had limited capacity with prior reservation. This fact has changed the images of crowd and collective euphoria so characteristic of this celebration. The concerts of the BAM, one of the most anticipated music festivals in La Mercè, and the events of the Mercè Arts de Carrer exhibition, were transformed into spaces arranged by appointment and where everyone had to remain in a specific place, unable to move freely. Most affected were the acts of popular culture where spontaneity and interaction between the audience and performers are the central elements –most had interactions suspended– so a new expression and experience reigned about a very different celebration.
Also, the city council itself states that this year “the most practical La Mercè” has been celebrated. It was not just more practical, but also more accessible. It was more accessible because it gave everyone the opportunity to watch some of the events, both live and pre-recorded, through the Betevé television channel and the Barcelona Culture channels. And, above all, because of the expansion and diversification of cultural events into neighborhoods and open spaces where no events had previously been held. One of the new changes was the celebration of events in eight different gardens of the city such as the Jardins Constança d’Aragó, including emblematic parks of the city such as Parc Joan Miró and Parc Güell. The piromusical, a music and fireworks extravaganza which traditionally puts an end to the celebration, was made from four different spaces in the city so that residents could see it from their balconies and terraces.
La Mercè in times of pandemic has been a celebration more diurnal than nocturnal. All events ended no later than ten o’clock at night. And finally, a reduced Mercè, as the Councilor for Culture of Barcelona City Council pointed out this year, could only be enjoyed by a tenth of the more than one million people who took part in 2019. All this has been innovative, reduced, safe, and above all else, accessible and decentralized.