Escape Experience in the Museu Agbar de les Aigües

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Finding new formats of activities to attract new audiences is an important challenge for museums nowadays, and among these “new” publics there are often youths. Faced with this challenge, and aware that the escape rooms are attracting a profile that we are interested in getting to know and to bring them to the museum, we at Museu Agbar de les Aigües decided to design one to be able to offer it during the Museums’ Night.

Escape room or escape experience?

Taking into account the specificity of the format, we looked for a specialised provider. The first thing we did with Cocolisto Experience was to clarify concepts so as to define what we wanted to offer the visitors: escape room, escape experience or a game of clues.  In the first and the second, the differential feature is “escaping from a place”. In the second and the third, the factor is that of time, the storytelling and the resolution of a “conflict”.

The option of an escape room was very attractive, given that the old water deposit of 2000 m3 was a possible closed space to do so, and would offer a major capacity of absorption of public – turns of 300 people-, but wouldn’t highlight our great treasure: the heritage!

The escape experience lost the factor of being closed in a space and having to get out, but had other strengths that led us to choosing this option:

  • the time: 60 minutes to resolve the riddles
  • the language: deciphering messages
  • the storytelling and the total immersion in the space: the activity is carried out throughout the premises of the museum, also in spaces where it is not frequent to enter. It’s even possible to do so with the usual visitors walking around at the same time as the participants of the escape: the museum’s life is altered as little as possible.

Aware that we wanted to show our heritage to a non-habitual public of the museum, we got our heads down to think about an experience proposal that would be attractive and interesting, adapted and thought up for them.

We couldn’t lose the rigor in the content, and the format of the activity couldn’t break away from the essence of the museum. We were aware that the most attractive topics of an activity of this type do not usually talk about sustainability, the environment, industrial heritage, water management…That’s why one of the most important challenges was to find a story that  was attractive for the public, respectful with the history of the place and rigorous.

After discarding catastrophic or excessively fantastic topics related to water, we reached the essence of the place and hit on fantastic characters inspired in the period of the construction of the Central Cornellà, the station for the extraction and water pumping of the Llobregat aquifer that Aigües de Barcelona inaugurated in 1909, a part of which being transformed into a museum in 2004.  We decided to include characters that dramatized the activity, and which, moreover, helped in questions of circulation and time management in the tests.  Then we got down to work on the intervention in the heritage. We discarded the option of making replicas/facsimiles of the pieces of the exhibition that the participants could touch, we found a balance between fantasy and the reality of the storytelling, and we had to look for logistical solutions for collocating the clues that helped to resolve the riddles without placing the heritage at risk. We had to combine the utility of the location of the clues with the fact of highlighting the value of the exhibition and the heritage itself, using this heritage as a resource for resolving the riddles, and a long etcetera of going backwards and forwards.

Functioning of the activity

How did the activity work? The participants arrived at the front desk and were handed in a letter that invited them to come to a place at a specific time.

Hello, I’m Edward Waterhouse, in charge of the museum’s security.  Are you the specialists? Thank you very much for coming, it’s lucky that you can be here on such a special night as this one. The ghosts have returned and we need your help to solve the situation. 

Each year, during these dates, Françoise Fives Lille, daughter of the engineer who built this well so beautifully that it goes a little further, once again appears in the museum. Why? Well, because her loved-one, Francesc Amargós, son of the great architect Amargós, who designed the building and the large chimney, amongst others, had the brilliant idea of giving her a whole lot of pearls as a present.

It was back in 1909, during the inauguration of the Station, when the loved-one of Françoise gave her the present before setting off towards the Americas. The problem is that he never returned, and Françoise never managed to open the boxes that hid her present.

This would be your mission, to find the jewels and make sure they reach the ghost of Françoise before she bursts into anger and spoil this fantastic night. Because Françoise is a bit melodramatic, and if she doesn’t receive the jewels at just the right time, she’s capable of making a hell of a fuss.

We don’t want to alert the rest of the museum’s visitors, so we will ask you to be as discreet as possible. To start, please go to the point indicated on the map and wait for Francesc Amargós’ son to appear, the loved-one of Françoise. He usually appears on the hour, on the dot, or an hour and a half later. It is important for one of you to pass yourself off as Françoise, this will confuse him and he will give you directions to find the pearls. 

But be warned, once Francesc appears, you will have an hour before Francoise appears and she bursts into anger. Synchronize your watches. Find the jewels, find out where Francoise is hiding and please give her the pearls in time, let’s see if we can manage to have a quiet night.

The riddles were distributed in different spaces: in the garden (the vast majority), in the permanent exhibition (objects in the display cabinets, in the skylights that let you see the basement, in the machine room where you cannot enter but you can see), the anti-aircraft shelter and the circular deposit. Once in the specific place and time, they found the first person, who gave them directions to do the activity and handed them the cards with the riddles to solve. At that point, the teams were spread throughout the museum with the clear idea that they would be distributed throughout the premises and that all the teams would be gathered in the same place.

Replaying the game

So far we’ve programmed this activity twice. The first, on the Museums’ Night, in which we were overwhelmed with people, and that through social media we were asked to do it again. And a few weeks later, in July, we incorporated it into the programming of the Summer Nights of Cornellà. For this second time we were able to introduce some changes and improvements in the timing and the difficulty of some of the riddles, and in this case the museum was closed exclusively for the participants of the escape.

In both editions the activity was a success in terms of participation, we filled all the groups and turns, and the feedback of the participants was very positive. Giving value to heritage and history in such a powerful activity due to its format and for a public with such diverse interests has not been an easy task, and we believe that we could still refine it. While the participants play – with a limited time to achieve their goal, we have the challenge of letting the place speak. A challenge that we will continue to try to achieve.

Agnès Fort
Museu Agbar de les Aigües

Related links

Escape Games: how do museums make them better?, We Are Museums

How to use Escape Room Games to Attract Millennials to your Museum, Augusta Museum of History, (talk by Amy Schaffman at MuseumNext),  video 28 min.

Escape Room: The Secret of Mondriaan, Villa Mondriaan

Escape from the Museum!, Canadian Museum of Nature

 

Z_ Guest blogger

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