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Kinetic Sculpture Race enlivens Baltimore for 20th year

Crowds screamed, shouted and cheered with amazement as the gigantic turtle, dragon and mystical horned blue poodle floated by on bicycles Saturday morning in Fells Point.

None were more spirited than 3-year-old Zariya Muhammad, who stood near the corner of Aliceanna Street and Broadway waving orange pompoms. With each gleeful hop, her ringlets bounced.

“She loves the race — and the pompoms,” said her mother, Zitaqwa Muhammad, who watched dotingly and took turns shaking her own pompoms.

The 20th annual Kinetic Sculpture Race coursed through Baltimore on Saturday. And if you were anywhere near the 15-mile route, which stretched from Federal Hill to the Inner Harbor to Canton and back to the American Visionary Arts Museum, then chances are you saw the creative, quirky, traveling art rolling throughout the city streets.

“Our race takes our beloved national museum's delight in grassroots creation to the streets, mud pits, and harbor waters of a city in need of such an embrace,” said museum director Rebecca Hoffberger, who brought the event to Baltimore two decades ago. “Schools work year round for this moment in time. Old racers bind their knees for just one more 15-mile joy ride.”

The race was envisioned by California visionary artist Hobart Brown, Hoffberger said.

“Part Huck Finn, part Da Vinci in training, AVAM's Kinetic Sculpture Race has everyday folk reclaim the harbor waters from the yachts and commercial vessels and takes strutting one's best stuff to new heights,” she said. She estimated that 150 volunteers worked the event this year to bring the “Fellini-like mobile parade to side streets and water entry alike.”

Luke Clippinger has been a race judge for eight years. He volunteered a couple years before that.

“I come back every year because it’s the most wonderfully mediocre event in the world,” the Riverside man said. “It’s hundreds of people working for months on projects that are sometimes extraordinary, and sometimes ill-conceived. But always done with courage and immense joy.”

The Muhammads, who live in Washington, heard about the event a couple weeks ago when grandmother Justine Muhammad attended Light City.

“I like this kind of art,” said Muhammad, who was draped in a single strand of large purple and yellow Mardi Gras beads. “I thought it would be fun for the kid.”

The race was a change from the vibe in Washington, which the family said would never have such an event.

The Muhammads said the race was a bright spot for Baltimore, a city that has struggled to project a positive image.

“You hear all the bad stuff here,” Zitaqwa said. “You don’t hear the good.”

They agreed they would return — maybe as contestants.

“Next year you’ll see us make a bike,” Justine said.

“How?” Zitaqwa asked. She looked at her toddler and laughed. “She’ll only be four.”

Harriet Johnson said she hadn’t heard of the event.

“I’ve been living here 30 years,” the Baltimore woman said. “I’m not a computer person. I didn’t know.”

Johnson stumbled upon the event while waiting for a bus. She stayed to watch.

A dozen people dressed as Waldo, of Where’s Waldo, whizzed past.

“This is something good,” Johnson said. “With the city’s bad rep, you get skeptical. But this is exciting.”

Johnson said she watched the race for about 30 minutes — a personal feat.

“I’m an impatient person, and I have loved watching this,” she said.

Her favorite entry was a big spider.

“Or maybe it was the railroad-themed group,” she said. ‘Wait! There’s a boat coming. This might be my favorite. There are more coming.”

The Muhammad family planned to hop in their car to see more of the race.

Johnson, too, was heading to the Canton Waterfront, where she was excited to watch the creations take a quick dip in the Harbor.

“That will be something to see,” she said.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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