Children's Toy & Media Reviews Since 1978

The 2014 Sweet 16 Kinetic Sculpture Race



Come One, Come All to the zaniest race of them all!

This Saturday, May 3rd marks the 16th annual Kinetic Sculpture Race hosted by the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

As a celebration of the many forms that play can take for both adults and children, we wanted to showcase this annual challenge dedicated to ingenuity, incredulity, creativity, determination and utterly fabulous costumes.

The KIPP school’s Kipplala crew

What is it you ask? This is the east coast installment of a west coast tradition of racing custom built, human powered works of art through intense and inventive obstacle courses. Who builds these wonders and how? It’s safe to say that all ages build, pilot, volunteer, cheer and participate in the race from start to finish. Engineering the vehicles is a challenge that even middle and high school students have conquered. Talk about putting STEM into practice…

Greendustrial Revolution and a Not-So-Angry-Bird stop traffic.




For the past 16 years Baltimore has hosted the east coast version of the Kinetic Sculpture Race, taking advantage of the city’s good-natured acquiescence to the ridiculous.



KineticFirebreatherKatynOn the first Saturday in May these people-propelled contraptions (most relying on some form of bicycle base) are piloted across 15 miles of urban terrain. Rolling and clunking through crowded city streets, past the Inner Harbor, and around downtown monuments. Hundreds of spectators gather on foot and on bikes, in costumes and plain dress, along the race route to wave to the teams of kinetinauts, (the name given to the pilots of kinetic sculptures).




KineticWaterEntryThe sculptures then plunge valiantly into the Canton waterfront, and if they don’t sink, the vehicles and their intrepid entourages and pit crews continue into  Patterson Park where they must power through a mud pit, a sand pit, and wind through park paths covered by treacherous low hanging tree limbs.

Go Ask Alice manages the mud with a good push from its pit crew.


From there, the exhausted pilots of the vehicles (the same people must pilot their vehicle for the entire race), cheerfully pedal up and down hills to finally cross the finish line to the hero’s welcome that awaits at the American Visionary Art Museum.

The one-man show that was Frednan receives the “Spirit of the Glorious Founder” award for cheerfully walking the entire course-while carrying his Flintstones-inspired kinetic sculpture.

This race is truly something you should experience at least once in your life; the Spectators Guide makes it easy for people to follow along throughout the entire race, or just to meet up at some of the highlights- like the water entry where although the crowd cheers  the vehicles on, they secretly hope to see a spectacular dunking.

Dr. Vlad’s Mad Lab surging into the harbor.

For more about the American Visionary Art Museum—the home of self-taught geniuses and wondrously strange methods of artmaking—and several of the kinetic sculptures who live there.



I personally always root for Team Fifi (the Visionary’s pink poodle who’s been racing for over a decade), but I’m partial to the pink princess; I’ve been on her pit crew for the past 6 years, pushing her through most of the race.

Come out this year and choose a sculpture to cheer on yourself.