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Behind Rain Room’s big splash at LACMA

If it was a theme park attraction, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s new blockbuster exhibit Rain Room would be one of those “slow loaders.” Like Disneyland’s Dumbo, only a small group of patrons gets to experience it at a time.

For the museum’s security officers, it’s been a high-flying ride.

They’re charged with an unusual degree of crowd interaction, admitting about 20 visitors at a time and allowing just a handful of them to walk into the watery heart of the exhibit at once. More broadly, they serve as onsite interpreters to help explain what’s officially described as “an immersive environment of perpetually falling water that pauses wherever a human body is detected.”

They’ll offer tips on how to move through the exhibit without getting wet. (The trick to letting the sensors know you’re there is to wear light-colored clothing and go extremely slowly.)

When needed, they’ll even plunge in and demonstrate how to stay dry in the pouring rain—which, after all, is something of a novelty in Los Angeles after four years of drought. “This one little girl came up to me and said, ‘How do I do it? I’m getting wet.’ So I went under the water with her,” said Breanna Burton, a security officer with Allied Barton, which provides security services to the museum.

They’ve obligingly snapped hundreds of photos for guests eager to post their experiences to social media. In doing so, they’ve helped Rain Room become arguably the most Instagrammed exhibit in LACMA history, with celebs like LACMA trustee Ryan Seacrest and actress Salma Hayek joining in all the (#rainroom @LACMA) image-sharing.

Since Rain Room, created by the London-based experimental art studio Random International, opened on November 1, the security officers have been in thick of the action, even witnessing a marriage proposal or two.

“He got down on one knee and she said yes and they started dancing,” security officer Burton recalled.

The exhibit, sold out through its anticipated close on March 6, 2016, has helped boost LACMA attendance by more than 24% compared to the usual crowds at this time of the year. (Click here to sign up for alerts if more appointment-timed tickets become available.)

Rain Room is one in a series of art experiences that have drawn large, participatory audiences to the museum in recent years. “I think it’s on par with some of the huge projects we’ve done, certainly with Urban Light and Levitated Mass,” said Doug Leonhardt, LACMA’s director of onsite services. “There’s something that draws people to the museum when there’s an experience. And it’s a different audience. We’re seeing new people come to the museum who’ve never been to LACMA before.”