south slope derby
Photo credit: Koko NYC

Aliens.
Sharks.
Pink-wheeled jeeps armed with water pistols.

17th Street has seen its share of wild vehicles over the years. And with the South Slope Derby rolling into town this Saturday to celebrate its tenth anniversary, you’ll be sure to witness a new slew of wild creations on wheels.

And not one iota of fossil fuel will power these low-fi machines.

Koko NYC has been offering art-based building and technology classes and workshops for a decade, and their annual Soap Box Summer Workshop provides an opportunity for kids to design and construct functional vehicles, culminating each year in a downhill race.

The derby is a celebration of the DIY creations that students between ages 7-12 construct under the guidance of Koko NYC’s talented counselors.

south slope derby
Alex Watkins works on her 2016 soap box derby entry. (Photo credit: Donny Levit)

Lea Bender, Koko NYC’s Arts Education Programs Director, believes the goal of the organization is “epitomized by the derby and workshop.” Students participate in one-week workshops throughout the summer to engineer and build their eco-friendly racers, which are made out of recycled materials. The classes take place in a small lot next to Iglesia Pentecostal Misionera (239 17th Street near 5th Avenue).

“The kids really thrive when you give them some structure but don’t tell them exactly what to do,” Bender says. “It’s incredible to see what they accomplish — making a fully realized car that works.”

south slope derby
The Soap Box Derby Summer Workshop class and counselors in 2016. Open Source Gallery’s Artistic Director Monika Wuhrer is second from top right. (Photo credit: Donny Levit)

On Saturday, August 26 at high noon, neighbors, community members, and soapbox enthusiasts will line the sides of 17th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues) to see the contraptions make their maiden voyages. Judges for this year’s derby include Carlos Menchaca, Council Member for District 38 in Brooklyn, Elise Long, Artistic Director and Founder of Spoke the Hub, Peter Reich, creator of the Swift Folder Bicycle, Katherine Moriwaki, co-founder of Scrapyard Challenge, Donny Levit, editor-in-chief of New Pulp City, Severn Clay-Youman, founder of Civic Architecture Workshop, and Rebecca Darugar, Director of Education at 826NYC.

“This is also about the whole neighborhood coming together,” says Bender. “There’s a sense of really getting to know their neighbors, sitting on the stoops, and coming out to cheer on the kids.”

south slope derby
Photo credit: Daniel Paterna

2017 also marks a year of tremendous development for Open Source Gallery, which founded Koko’s student programs and workshops in 2007. The previously named Koko Open Source has now been rebranded as Koko NYC. “We’re both growing so much. They’re ready to be their own organizations,” adds Bender.

Koko NYC also invites you to their 10th Anniversary Derby Gala which will take place on Wednesday, August 30. “We wanted to throw a party because we’ve been developing our educational programs,” Bender says.

Those attending the gala will be able to meet the teachers while engaging in activities in order to experience Koko NYC’s classes and spirit. All money raised will go directly to teacher training. “Our teachers are so important to what we do and we’re going to focus on making our programs even stronger.”


The Derby Rundown: Koko NYC’s 10th Annual South Slope Derby
When: Saturday, August 26, 12pm
Starting Area: In front of Open Source Gallery (306 17th Street at 6th Avenue)
How much: Cheering on the racers is free!

The Gala Rundown: Koko NYC’s Derby Gala
When: Wednesday, August 30, 7-10pm
Where: 257 17th Street (near 5th Avenue), Brooklyn
How much: $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Purchase tickets here.

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