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Locals put creativity into motion

By LibMueller
On April 11, 2014

Have you ever, amidst the humdrum of the everyday, wanted to do something a little bit weird? Perhaps you have felt like walking to class on stilts or casually floating down the hall of your dorm on a hovercraft. Perhaps you get bored with uniformity and want to throw some crazy into the mix.

The Oxford Kinetics Festival, which occurred last Sunday, is a yearly event that aims to bring out the crazy and creative ideas of the surrounding community.

Miami University Professor of Sculpture Rod Northcutt co-directs the Oxford Kinetics Festival alongside sculptor Kate Currie. Their nonprofit corporation MAKETANK Inc. administers the festival as well as arts-based year-round programming. MAKETANK's leadership also includes two other artists: artist Dr. Alysia Fischer (lecturer for the Center for American and World Cultures at Miami) and Christina Miller, artist and executive director of Ethical Metalsmiths.

"The Oxford Kinetics Festival is a community event that marshals the creativity and innovation of the Southwest Ohio area," Northcutt said. "It's a one-day event; however, the preparation for it extends throughout the year. It is produced by MAKETANK Inc., which has a three-part mission: one, to connect people who don't normally interact; two, to create opportunities for the sharing of skills; and three, to develop individuals' confidence in their own creativity."

The festival featured booths put together by students and professional art organizations in the region, Northcutt said. Among the exhibitions were a kinetic shadow puppet show by Miami's theater and education majors, a battle in cardboard armor fought by Talawanda High School students, a toy lab where kids could re-purpose old toys hosted by Happen Inc. from Cincinnati, a duct tape replica of the Apollo lander showcased by students and faculty from the University of Cincinnati and a stilt bar built by Miami students.

The stilt bar consisted of a bar serving root beer mounted on a high platform next to a tent. If you wanted to reach the bar, you had to solicit the help of someone who taught you to build and walk upon a set of stilts.

Workshops were offered prior to the event to community members who had fun ideas but were unsure how to execute them.

"We know that a lot of people have ideas for wacky contraptions, but not many people know how to make them happen, so we offer free workshops that happen in the month leading up to the festival," Northcutt said. "If you have an awesome idea and want design consultation or help with the mechanics, we have professionals on hand who will work with you to bring your idea to fruition."

The main event at the festival was "the scramble."

"The scramble is a kinetics sculpture race," Northcutt said. "People create Frankenstein-like vehicles that are human-powered, usually by pedals. For 45 minutes, they compete by driving to different stations, where they get off their contraptions and perform different tests of strength and agility. Then, they get back on their contraptions and ride to the next station. It's kind of like an obstacle course."

Graduate student Nathan Foley, who is working on his Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture, helped construct a teeter totter on wheels for the event.

"It was totally interactive," Foley said. "Kids got on and off and since it's on wheels, they were also able to rotate 360 degrees. It's not stuck to the ground; it's mobile."

A senior design team from the Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering (MME) capstone course designed hovercrafts for the festival.

MAKETANK Inc. had previously approached the capstone professors to propose collaboration between Miami students and the Talawanda High School ninth grade science teachers. They accepted, and the senior design team from the capstone created teaching modules for science teachers as well as the hovercrafts exhibited at the festival.

"The high school just got new physical science textbooks and certain required topics were missing," one of the design team members Peter Siegfried said. "We were filling in the curriculum for that, which included information you would find in a textbook, assignments, example worksheets, lesson plans, demonstrations teachers could perform and laboratories kids could do themselves."

The hovercrafts were a product of a brainstorming session, according to Kate Bruns, another member of the team.

"We pretty much just got together as a group and brainstormed different projects we thought we would be able to do that would demonstrate dynamics in some way and came up with a hovercraft design," Bruns said.

The hovercrafts worked using leaf blowers which hovered a fraction of an inch above the ground. The team declared the project a success. A long line of kids waited to test out the hovercraft. Some of them rode the craft eight or nine times, according to Siegfried, and many of them were interested in how the craft worked.

"That was one of our main focuses from the beginning, getting kids interested in science," team member Elyssa Nguyen said.

Northcutt said his personal motivation for MAKETANK Inc. and the annual Oxford Kinetics Festival comes from wanting to bring some vibrancy and eccentricity to the homogeneous Miami community.

"We want to create something that's more in line with the variety you find in big cities, but we want to focus on our local environment and make it as rich and robust as it can be," Northcutt said. "Essentially, we want to make Oxford a little weird."

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