Drink beer, drive sculpture, save planet

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Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby 2008 People’s Choice winner "Shad Run" by Paul Filanowski and Kathryn O Malley. A mechanism connected the floating fish to the handlebars so that whenever the bikes were turned the whole school of fish would simultaneously repoint themselves in that direction.

Yo, enough blah-blah-blah about "the Green future" and "sustainability" and "energy independence" and "planetary concsciousness." When's the last time we really got to put the pedal to the metal with some real-world kicks at a pro-environment event? When's the last time you really had fun fighting global warming?

Well, for some of us it was at last year's Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby, an off-kilter extravaganza that's somewhere between a race, a parade and a science fair. The point of Kinetic Sculpture events, established some 40 years ago by Hobart Brown, is to show how creative minds can create vehicles that are both asthetically interesting and entirely human-powered. And the point of this post is that our local version in Kensington is kicking off this year's Derby preparations with a free "Meet-&-Greet" tomorrow - Saturday, Feb, 28th - from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Philadelphia Brewing Company, 2439 Amber St (enter via Martha Street).

Here's the quick version (you can get fuller details in the podcast we did with director Kathryn Doherty about the Derby): As part of the Trenton Avenue Arts Festival on May 16th, the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby will process through the streets of Kensington, showing off some of the strangest mobile creations you've seen in a while, at the same time testing the vehicles' road-worthiness. In addition to three miles of regular paved streets and cobblestones, these moving sculptures have to make it through a mud pit, which really puts the "earth" into "down-to-earth."  (Baltimore's Kinetic Sculpture Race, sponsored by the American Visionary Art Museum since 1999, also has a sand pit, and vehicles must prove themselves seaworthy by navigating through a section of the Inner Harbor. Kensington is still working up to that level.) As you might expect, there are awards given out for Best Engineering and Best Art, but also Best Costumes, Best Breakdown and the coveted "Second to Last" award.

Most (but not all!) of the solutions people come up with involve bicycles in one way or another, so if you have an old one or two that can be re-purposed into who-knows-what and you have any kind of artistic and/or mechanical inclination, you may want to head down to the Philadelphia Brewing Company tomorrow to get the lay of the land, meet other interested parties, learn more about how to build a sculpture, form a team, learn the guidelines, get inspiration and, oh yes, drink some of the free beer that will be on hand.

You can also find out more about Kensington's bid to be named the Most Sustainable Zip Code in Philly - the neighborhood is already pretty green and is making strides that the rest of town would do well to adopt (again, more details in the podcast). But remember, however much talk there is about doing something about climate change, this is a pretty unique chance to turn the talk into action and have a blast in the process.