Propelled by human power and doubling as works of art, kinetic sculptures have a history dating to the late 1960s. The craze for these custom-built amphibious vehicles began when a Californian artist, Hobart Brown, created a pentacycle and raced it against other decorative vehicles during an arts festival in Ferndale. Kinetic sculpture races now take place annually in a few cities, including Baltimore.
The Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture race came into being through the efforts of the American Visionary Art Museum (avam.org). The founder of this Baltimore museum, Rebecca Hoffberger, worked with Hobart Brown, and the first race took place in 1999 with six entries. The number of vehicles has increased over the years, with more than 30 taking part in 2011. The race typically takes place in April or May and also is known as the East Coast Kinetic Sculpture Championship.
The route of the race takes it along a 15-mile course through a number of areas of Baltimore. Starting at the American Visionary Art Museum building in the Inner Harbour area, competitors make their way along city roads, including Light and Pratt streets, the water section of the course at Canton Waterfront Park, an obstacle course of mud and sand in Patterson Park, and finally back to the finish line at the museum.
Anyone can build and enter a sculpture in the race, with the 10 race rules on the Kinetic Baltimore website (kineticbaltimore.com) providing guidance on how to do this. Vehicles can be no greater than 35 feet long, 8 feet wide and 13 feet high. They must use only human power and have to pass a safety check before starting. While the race has a competitive nature, sculpture pilots and crew are told they must enjoy their time racing, in accordance with rule 10: "All pilots, pit crew members, barnacles, officials, spectators, police, marine posse, timers, and passersby must put great effort into HAVING FUN! for it is such craziness as this that keeps us all sane."
The race has a number of awards, presented to the best and worst on show. The most prestigious, "The Ace Award," goes to the best pilot in the race. Others include "The Golden Dinosaur Award," presented to the first or most impressive breakdown; the "Golden Flipper Award," given to the vehicle with the best water entry; and "The Spirit of The Glorious Founder Award," presented in honor of Hobart Brown, the father of kinetic sculpture racing.
Spectators coming to watch the race have their own 10-rule code of conduct, to ensure they join in the fun. Some of the rules covered include vigorously waving white gloved hands in the air on seeing a vehicle or when on camera, refraining from helping the vehicles by pushing (when race officials are watching), and wearing a cardboard grin if their own smile falters. Getting into the spirit of the spectator rules should ensure an enjoyable time for anyone turning up to watch.
The running of the race owes a large part to the many volunteers that give their time to help. Anyone can offer their services by turning up at one of the volunteer meetings in the run-up to the race. Volunteers can perform a variety of tasks, from mud-pitting to cleaning up, but must dress in a funny costume to join in the fun.
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