Don’t Miss the First-Ever Lowell Kinetic Sculpture Race This Weekend

It's a land-and-sea competition like no other.

kraken pic

A team piloting this device, called “Kraken Upcycle,” will be competing at the first-ever Lowell Kinetic Sculpture Race on Saturday. photo courtesy of the Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race

If you’re in the mood for a quirky, off-the-wall good time, head up to Lowell this weekend and check out the city’s first-ever Kinetic Sculpture Race.

On Saturday, eight teams will race through downtown Lowell in hand-made machines—big pieces of art that can be propelled with pedals and are capable of floating. The course they will travel winds through the city’s streets, a giant mud pit, and the Merrimack River, and racers are encouraged to dress up in outrageous costumes, blow bubbles, and be as goofy as possible.

“It’s a race, but it’s part race, part parade, part arts and science festival,” says Bianca Mauro, its production director. “So it’s pretty much the slowest race you’re ever going to see, but it’s the most entertaining.”

While at the end of the race there is one overall winner, there are also a slew of nonsensical awards: one for coming in second-to-last place, another for the best “bribes” (competitors are encouraged to lavish judges and spectators with baked goods, candy, and art), and another called the “Very Competitive Non-Competitive Award of Mediocrity,” given to a team that followed the rules and tried really hard, but didn’t win. Teams are encouraged to recruit “barnacles,” people who ride along on the machines without serving any particular purpose, for extra points.

“The race is not so much about trying to be the first one through the finish line as it is about pageantry and artistry and really just having a fun time,” says Michael Roundy, the race’s director.

In fact, that’s part of the official rules. From the race’s website:

The mission is to show kids it is fun to be an adult. Those with frowny faces, grumpy grimaces, and other unbecoming sets of emotions shall be cited. Consistent crankiness by any team will garner a time penalty.

The concept is new to Massachusetts, but kinetic sculpture races have become popular traditions in cities like Baltimore, which hosts more than 30 teams each year at its annual race. And Roundy, an art professor at UMass Lowell, hopes that Massachusetts will come to love the race just as much as he does.

“I think each year, as more and more machines get built, people are going to get more excited about it,” he says, “It’s gonna be it’s own subculture. That’s what I believe.”

The event, which is free, begins at 9:30 a.m., when spectators can “meet the machines.” Opening ceremonies begin at 10:30, for which plans include a “tongue-in-cheek” torch-lighting, reciting of an oath, and a performance from The Party Band, a 20-piece brass outfit and Honk! affiliate.

Spectators are invited to bring their bikes and travel the course alongside the teams. There will also be food trucks, music, lawn games, and other activities.

Learn more here.