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A Pinewood Derby for grown ups races this Friday at the Central Library

The Capital Times

By Lindsay Christians

This Friday is Pinewood Derby night at the library, but with bigger cars and booze.

The Art Car Derby, part of Madison Public Library’s free series of events called “Night Light” at the Central Library, will race cars created by local artists and let attendees vote for their favorites — even if they aren’t the fastest.

“I’m driven by sounds, and how they bring back memories,” said artist Justin Bitner. “I used to go watch my brother do the Pinewood Derby, and I’ve never been able to work it into an art piece.”

Bitner started as the artist in residence at the Central Library in September. He began building the 56-foot-long, 8-foot-tall track for the Art Car Derby, nicknamed “Keep Bookin’,” in October, and completed it this week.

The 10 or so participating artists, including Jon Edwards from the Madison Children’s Museum and Little Free Galleries curator Rachel Bruya, were asked to base the design for their car off something at the library, like a book or a musical album — anything they could get from the library.

Other artists Bitner recruited include Cheryl DeWelt, Chris Murphy, Isaiah Schroeder, Paul Andrews, Isaiah Schroeder and Rebecca Rettenmund.

Compared to a real Pinewood Derby, “the scale is bigger, the cars are a foot long … (artists) didn’t have a kit,” Bitner said. “They can’t use gears or motors,” but otherwise there are no rules. Anything goes.

Bitner, whose work appeared in the 2013 Wisconsin Triennial, calls himself an “installation/media artist.” Also a woodworker, he works for Richard Judd Furniture in Paoli.

Bitner came up with the concept of the derby as a way to recreate the community of artists he enjoyed as a master of fine arts student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

At the UW, he said, “I got so used to having this community of people and shows. I wanted to bring artists together … instead of competing against each other for shows, competing against each other for fun.”

As he was building the track, Bitner crowd-sourced ideas for the race, asking library visitors to draw flags for the track and think of names (that’s where “Keep Bookin'” came from).

Starting at 9 p.m., there will be a bracket-style competition with nine races. The event is free, and Underground Food Collective is doing the drinks and snacks.

Artists who donated their time to make cars for the Derby can win prizes from the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Driftless Studio on State Street, Zuzu’s Cafe on the near west, Espresso Royale and Artist & Craftsman Supply.

Bitner’s residency at the library ends at the end of the month, when he’ll post his next project on the library website: a techno song, made from audio snippets collected at the library.

“It’s supposed to be quiet,” he said. “So I like that it can get loud.”

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