What do you get when mad scientists, er, artists cross Willy Wonka with Mad Max? Amphibious, human powered works of art, and on September 24, spectators will find a creative caravan of these vehicles rolling through Mill City in the region’s first Kinetic Sculpture Race.
The brainchild of UMass Lowell Fine Arts Professor Michael Roundy, the race sets contestants out on a five-mile course, beginning and ending on Market Street. Between start to finish, the man-made vehicles will have to work on land and water, including 50 yards of mud and the Merrimack River.
Roundy says the idea behind the race stemmed from his days as an undergrad at California’s Humboldt State University in the ‘90s, when he witnessed a spectacle that was “wild, wacky and a whole bunch of fun.”
The first kinetic sculpture race traces its roots to Ferndale, Calif., in 1969 when artist Hobart Brown upgraded his son’s tricycle into a 5-weheeled pentacycle and was challenged to race down Main Street. Hobart didn’t win but over the decades since, the California race evolved into a three-day all terrain Kinetic Grand Championship including treacherous dunes, water crossings and elaborate sculptures and costumes.
By the time Roundy was in college studying fine arts, the California race had moved its location to Arcadia, where Roundy’s college was located.
“It’s set up so all participants, spectators and race officials dress up in funky costumes, like a circus in some ways,” he explains. “The mash-up of steampunk, science, engineering, math and art really appealed to me. Growing up in a long line of do-it-yourselfers, building everything from furniture to working on cars, I love the hands on aspect of the race and always thought it would be great to have something like that here.”
When Roundy heard about a National Park grant offering funding for projects that would be both educational and engage the community, he threw his hat into the ring. While, he’s still waiting to hear whether the race will be a recipient of a grant, putting his ideas out there attracted some key partners, including Production Director Bianca Mauro, and got the ball rolling on fundraising to make the race a reality.
There are currently six teams signed, a combination of local artists and gear heads. Roundy hopes more will join the fun. Entries are free and will be accepted until the start of the race.
In an event where art and engineering collide, spectators should get to see some pretty interesting inventions. At annual kinetic sculpture races in California and Baltimore, Md., dozens of contestants gather to put their vehicles to the test. The visual riot of contraptions cover anything you can imagine from a giant pink poodle to chattering teeth, and seem straight out of the Beatle’s psychedelic phase.
Official rules for the Lowell race include some unusual — but fun — requirements, like all machines must carry a stuffed animal located on their vehicle (for moments you might break down and need something to snuggle up to), bribes can be used to encourage officials’ and spectators’ support (like homemade brownies), team uniforms are a must, and an 8 percent total body wetness rule — the point is to have your vehicle stay out of the water after all.
Roundy envisions the race will really take off, especially since its location is a college town with plenty of engineers and artists in tow. In the future, he sees the main event becoming a larger, 10-mile course, surrounded by other fairs and events to draw more people into Lowell.
“It’s intended to be a spectacle and, more than a race, it’s about being a whole bunch of fun.”
For more information on the Lowell Kinetic Sculpture Race, or to become a sponsor, visit lowellkinetic.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org