Every year, on the first Saturday in May, thousands of Baltimore residents and visitors gather to cheer on the Kinetic Sculpture Race, a parade of human-powered sculptures and floats that bravely traverse through Baltimore streets, Inner Harbor waters and muddy parks. Here’s what you can expect from this day of weird and wacky at its finest.
What is this race, anyway?
The Kinetic Sculpture Race, launched in 1998, is a Baltimore tradition presented by the American Visionary Art Museum. Teams of competitors, a.k.a. Kinetinauts, race along a 15-mile loop in the ultimate feat of problem solving, thinking green and teamwork.
In years past, the Kinetic Sculptures have included giraffes, sharks and a gingerbread house, among many other creative structures. Spectators can always look forward to Fifi, the massive, fluffy, pink poodle-esque mascot of AVAM, holding court along the race course. During the off season, Fifi rests on view at the Jim Rouse Visionary Center, a warehouse just outside the main museum building.
The best way to view the race
For the best views of the race, plan your schedule accordingly. Set your alarm to see the colorful floats lined up at the starting line at AVAM. The opening ceremony starts at 9:30 a.m., and Federal Hill is the best place to view the start of the race.
The racers will spend the morning making their way through Federal Hill and by the afternoon they’ll be in Canton. Most of the floats dip into the water at Canton Waterfront Park around lunch time. Grab a scooter or bike over to Patterson Park to watch the Kinetinauts trek through sand and mud. The race will return through the heart of the city, winding up back at AVAM in time for the awards ceremony at 6 p.m.
How the winner(s) is decided
- Art: This recognition is awarded for the best artistic design, as expressed via color, humor, theatrical appeal and motion.
- Best Pit Crew: Participating is a test of team work and engineering. This award recognizes the ingenuity of the crew.
- Engineering: Awarded to the most ingenious technical design tackling the rigors of the race.
- Golden Flipper: The most interesting water entry.
- Grand Mediocre Champion: Who says there’s no prize for mediocrity? This prize is awarded to the finisher who ends up in the middle of the pack.
- People’s Choice: This prize goes to the most popular team based on surveys fielded by Kinetic Chickens.
- Sock Creature of the Universe: Each entry must include a sock puppet, and this award recognizes the best one in the pack.
- Worst Honorable Mention: This prize goes to the team whose mechanical skills did not diminish their competitive spirit.
Participants are eligible for a slew of nontraditional awards. At the Kinetic Sculpture Race, winning doesn’t mean coming in first. Some of the time-honored prizes include: