The 'Internet Cat Video Festival' leaves a legacy in human culture

The 'Internet Cat Video Festival' leaves a legacy in human culture

The Walker Art Center is ending the Internet Cat Video Festival after 4 years of celebrating online feline videos in live events, gathering thousands of cat lovers since 2012, and is donating the festival memorabilia to the Minnesota Historical Society.

The Internet Cat Video Festival was first put on by the Walker Art Center back in 2012 as part of its summer schedule of outdoor programming on Open Field, a platform of crowdsourced content in the spirit of collaboration and building community. The festival initiative had a solid justification:

Internet cat videos are doing all of the things compelling art should: raising questions, challenging assumptions, angering people, and — in the case of our festival — creating a real experience. Walker Art Center.

The festival was a real success, gathering about 10,000 attendants in the first edition. It also resulted in an international tour to Vienna, Austria, Jerusalem and Israel. Copycat events were born in Chicago, Oakland and Portland. By the festival’s second edition, it had grown into a tour booked in 15 cities including San Francisco, Brooklyn, Grand Rapids, Michigan and Derry in Northern Ireland. Word of this event spread internationally via social media and in the press including: the BBC, the New York Times, Japanese Television, Australian Talk Shows and Brazilian newspapers to name a few.

It was a matter of time for a digital phenomenon to be translated to the offline community, and surprisingly it worked. People were enjoying watching those videos together, dressing up as cats, wearing cat ears and whiskers, and cat-themed T-shirts.

"You could hear the meows nearly a block away, and also the 'awwws'. The laughter too." - Aug 2012, Melena Ryzik, The New York Times.

Katie Hill, Walker program associate, was affectionately refered to as 'the Walker's crazy cat lady in residence'. She initially suggested inviting people to watch cat videos on the greenspace adjacent to the museum an part of the Open Field programming. Hill watched about 10,000 viral videos for the first edition, and with a jury of 12 colleagues, they selected 79 videos to screen. She soon learned that viral video cats have agents, like the Keyboard cat and Nyan cat

 The clips were grouped into CATegories: documentary, foreign, comedy, drama, animated, musical, art house and life achievement. The people's choice was given 'The Golden Kitty award', whose first winner was Henri 2: Paw de Deux, starred by Henri, le Chat Noir and produced by Will Barden, who got involved in the programming and curation in further editions of the cat festival. Here is the award winner video:

On march 11, The Walker Art Center appropriately announced the end of the annual event via an internet cat video, featuring Henri, Le Chat Noir. These are his 'au revior' words:

“Humans are social creatures. However, they usually enjoy cat videos in solitaire. Perhaps, embarrassed of their inferiority to felines, they choose seclusion. However, in 2012 the Walker Art Center brought the world the Internet Cat Video Festival. People could finally admit their devotion to these fascinating creatures. Thousands of humans around the world were lured from their couches and cubicles, to reward feline auteurs such as myself. Now that the cultural sovereignty of cats has been established beyond doubt, the Walker is setting the festival free and going to work on new projects. They would like to thank all of the fans and supporters. I would like to go outside and nap in the sun. Good day, cat fans.”

Watch the full 'Au Revoir' video in the player below.

The Walker is donating its cat-themed archive to the Minnesota Historical Society, and hopes the 21st Century tradition will continue with copy-cat festivals.

"We're sad to see #catvidfest end at Walker Art Center, but thrilled that fest archives can find a home in our collections. " The Minnesota Historical Society

All the videos, posters, photos, cat costumes, glue-on whiskers will fit among the 250,000 objects in a collection that ranges from Civil War letters to Prince’s outfit. 

"Anything that can inspire 13,000 Minnesotans to gather around a topic is of interest to us" - referring to the overflow crowd in St. Paul’s CHS Field last year -“For us, history isn’t just about what happened 100 years ago. It’s really about what’s happening today in Minnesota, and the cat video festival is a homegrown Minnesota phenomenon that reached the whole world.” - said Lory Sutton, chief marketing officer at the Historical Society.

As for the woman who started it all, Katie Hill, she no longer watches cat videos... she 'got sort of saturated' on them. She has moved on and is an audience engagement specialist at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Still, Hill was excited when told that the festival archives are now official Minnesota history 'because that sets them in the zeitgeist of the time', she said.

So, cats have left their legacy in human culture as a social phenomenon, and now is official. Watch the gallery with pictures of the Internet Cat Video Festival editions by the Walker Art Center, and don't forget to watch the 'au revoir' video below.

As Henri, le Chat Cat said: Good day, cat fans ;)

Published on: March 2016
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