Kinetic sculpture is non-motorized artwork that moves. When it’s mounted on wheels and boasts a steering wheel and brakes, it qualifies as an entry into the famous Kingston Artists’ Soapbox Derby, held each year on the downhill run of Broadway in the Rondout District. Founded by Donskoj & Company (George Donskoj and Nancy Schneider Donskoj) to promote the arts and boost the local economy, the Derby brings out the competitive spirit of anyone who ever watched the Little Rascals tediously building their soapboxes, as well as others just inventive enough to build a vehicle that rolls. And speed is not the decisive issue here; creativity is.
Since 2014, the Derby has been based at the Historic Kingston Waterfront (HKW), and is now being organized by Sarah Bissonnette-Adler and Sarah Olivieri, who hope to attract thousands of spectators to witness this year’s wild and wacky event. Vehicles in strict definition only, each work of art represents the dreams of its maker. Some are quite professional-looking, and others are clearly the work of inchoate soapbox-builders solving the challenges of their unique visions with imagination and sweat. Beyond the actual day of the event, the Derby organizers have sponsored workshops for participants who needed extra help, including encouraging local community organizations to join in the fun and build a soapbox vehicle as a team.
Safety and fairness are foremost concerns, so each vehicle must be able to steer and stop, and will be inspected at the starting lineup at Spring Street for these capabilities. Vehicles with insufficient braking power will be required to go down the hill with a rope attached to prevent them from speeding away – but this minor disgrace won’t keep a vehicle out of the competition.
Registration on the morning of the event costs $45 for adult-made entries and $40 for youth-made entries; other size and design considerations can be found on the website below. Volunteers are still needed at 9 a.m. to help set up and clean up at the end of the event. Bissonnette-Adler is also looking for volunteers to help with Gravity Control: a crew of strong bodies to assist with any car needing that “corrective guidance” on the course.
Cars start rolling at noon. Afterwards, they’ll all be lined up along the West Strand, where spectators can admire the artistry and vote for their favorite. Live band music and vendors will be on hand as the judges reach their decisions and hand out the awards in T. R. Gallo Park on the waterfront. Prizes are awarded in these categories: First Place in the Kids’ (age 13 and under) Division, the People’s Choice Award, the Rondout Reject Award for the slowest finisher and two ad hoc categories: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Blast from the Past.