Fifi the dog competes in the American Visionary Art Museum's Kinetic Sculpture Race. Photo courtesy of AVAM.

The American Visionary Art Museum’s famous and beloved Kinetic Sculpture Race will return for its 23rd year on May 6.

AVAM Executive Director Jenenne Whitfield promises it will be “a sight to behold, indeed!”

“Our annual Kinetic Sculpture Race demonstrates the museum’s ongoing mission to support and promote intuitive, self-taught artists and visionaries of all sorts!” Whitfield said. “I stand in awe of the ingenuity that goes into designing and constructing these original human-powered machines. I challenge Baltimoreans and visitors alike to take a break from the daily grind and join us as we witness the creative spirit on full display in these unique mobile sculptures traversing the streets of Baltimore.”

Sculptures must be human-powered, though assistance of “the natural power of water, wind, sun, and gravity and friendly extraterrestrials” is allowed. A “Homemade Sock Creature” (HSC) must also be present on the sculpture for the entire race.

Each vehicle must have an “approved warning Triangle,” in addition to Coast Guard-approved life preservers. Once powering their sculptures through the waters of the Inner Harbor, pilots are only allowed 8% total area of body/clothes wetness. A full list of rules can be found on AVAM’s website.

As of this writing, 23 teams have registered, and participants range in age from teenagers to people in their 70s. The theme for this year’s race is “Everyday People.”

Teams prepare to travel through 15 miles of downtown Baltimore’s streets, including mud and sand pits at Patterson Park, and the Inner Harbor.

Participants will compete for top honors such as ACE, Best Pit Crew, People’s Choice, Worst Honorable Mention, and Spirit of the Glorious Founder. Grandest honor of all in the Kinetic Sculpture Race is the Grand Mediocre Champion, for the team finishing exactly in the middle of the pack. (Someone would have to do some meticulous planning and calculating to achieve THAT prize intentionally.)

There are six Baltimore-area schools who send teams to participate but one school has an entire program curriculum centered on the event. Jemicy School created the Kinetic Sculpture Race Industrial Design course several years ago. August DiMucci is the course instructor and loves the opportunity for learning the race gives the students.

“Our students are intuitive, mechanically inclined, visual-spatial thinkers who problem-solve and collaborate to design, build, and race vehicles that meet the challenges of the race,” DiMucci said. “In the class, they learn project planning, design, fabrication, material science, physics, welding, bike maintenance, communication, teamwork, and many other real-world skills. My favorite part of this class is to see the students’ joyful expressions on race day!”

Other schools participating as of now include Howard County Public School System Applications & Research Lab, Park School, St. Paul’s School for Girls, St. Paul’s School for Boys, and University of Maryland Baltimore County.

The approximate schedule for the race day is as follows:

  • 8 a.m. – Safety Check & Brake Test at AVAM, 800 Key Highway
  • 9:30 a.m. – Opening Ceremonies at AVAM
  • 10 a.m. – LeMans Start of Race on Key Highway, up Battery Avenue to Federal Hill Park
  • 11:15 a.m.-1 p.m. – Water Entry at Canton Waterfront
  • 1:15-3:30 p.m. – Sand & Mud Obstacles in Patterson Park
  • 3:30-6 p.m. – Finish Line/Post Race Recovery at AVAM
  • 6-7 p.m. – Awards Ceremony at AVAM

The festivities will take place rain or shine.

Get your entry form here, and sign up to be a volunteer here.

According to the website, the initial entry deadline has passed, but participants can still enter if they pay a late fee, as long as the AVAM front desk has the application by 4:30 p.m. on April 28.