This weekend, get ready to see crazy contraptions, lurching monsters and whimsical wheeled whirly-gigs during the upcoming Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby.
The event returns on Saturday, May 19 for its sixth year, included again in the Trenton Avenue Arts Festival, now in its seventh year.
The simultaneous events will be held on Trenton Avenue at Norris Street. The festival runs from noon to 6 p.m., and derby teams will head off on the course at 12:30 p.m. and return to the finish line between 1:25 and 2:30 p.m.
A “kinetic derby” is an urban race with obstacles like the now-dreaded mud pit on Trenton Avenue. Teams attempt to navigate while operating kinetic sculptures of their own design.
After the race, until 3 p.m., attendees can vote on their favorite team and kinetic sculpture, and winners will be announced at an award ceremony afterward.
Henry Pyatt, commercial corridor manager for the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, was part of the team that organized this year’s kinetic derby. He said the event has only become bigger and better over the years.
“We are really proud of how it has grown,” he said.
In fact, two years ago, the paired derby and arts festival saw 8,000 visitors, and last year, more than 10,000 people shared in the fun. This year, he believes the events could even draw a larger crowd.
In order to present the best possible derby for the growing crowd, Pyatt said members of the derby planning team recently visited Baltimore, which also hosts a kinetic derby.
That derby is longer than the Kensington Kinetic Derby, and began in 1999. By looking at what they have done, Pyatt said, he’s learned more about what could benefit the local derby.
“It really helps to see what a kinetic sculpture that’s been developed over 10 years looks like,” he said.
In Baltimore, Pyatt said, the course includes a sand pit and a section where the derby competitors must float their contraptions on the water.
“Baltimore was really inspiring to us,” he said. “But we want ours to be a little more artistic and a little less technical…ours is more like a parade, while theirs is a race.”
In the Kensington derby, sculptures are usually made from repurposed bicycles, and must be piloted by team members whose feet can never touch the ground. The sculptures and must be propelled solely through human power.
This year’s derby route is a little shorter than last year – 2.65 miles, instead of last year’s 4.1 miles – but Pyatt said it will cause fewer headaches by shortening the route and avoiding parading competitors out to Girard Avenue.
While the derby has police to control traffic, Pyatt said that last year the competition seemed to impede drivers along that roadway, and organizers wanted to avoid that issue this year.
“We’re just going to do that strictly to be better neighbors,” he said.
Also, this year’s derby will have three celebrity judges, including Brian Dwyer – Fishtown’s resident pizza expert and world record holder – as well as Joey Sweeney, editor of the popular Philebrity.com, and Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky.
Pyatt said Sweeney and Bykofsky have has something of a history of public disagreements, especially over the issue of bicycling in the urban environment of Philadelphia.
With such a huge focus on bikes as a major building block of the kinetic sculptures, Pyatt said putting the two together on a stage might help the men come to terms with their differences.
“They disagree on many issues, especially the biking issue,” said Pyatt. “It would be good to get them together. Let’s get conversations started.”
Also, city councilman Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.) will be on hand to present awards to derby competitors.
The derby isn’t the only draw, as the arts festival will offer music from local bands as well as food, crafts and artwork for sale from over 150 vendors.
Krista Peel, who organizes the arts festival with her husband, Zak Starer, said that along with this year’s new vendors, there will be interactive events like free readings of tarot cards and nail manicures.
“This year we’re sharing the street with the new buildings on Trenton,” she said in an email message. “They will have a front-row seat to the coolest event in the city - a kinetic sculpture derby and an arts and crafts festival - right outside their window.”
Star Staff Reporter Hayden Mitman can be contacted at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re going:
The 7th annual Trenton Avenue Arts Fest and the 6th annual Kensington Kinetic Derby will be held in tandem on Saturday, May 19, from noon to 6 p.m. at the intersection of Trenton Avenue and Norris Street.
The arts festival will offer more than 150 local artists, vendors, live music and food, while the derby will be a design competition celebrating art and human powered transit.