Why a Fancy Art Museum Is Curating a Collection of Cat Videos

Can the Internet's fervor for felines translate to in-person interactions?

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Walker Art Center 

The Walker Art Center is a contemporary art museum in Minneapolis, widely considered one of the country's premier art institutions. The Walker is known for both experimentation and quality; it was the first museum, for example, to exhibit the work of Franky Gehry and Chuck Close and Joseph Cornell. Tonight, the Walker will host its latest experiment in experimental art: a film festival. Featuring cat videos

Yep: cat videos. Nyan Cat, for one. "Cat Mom Hugs Baby Kitten," for another. And -- my personal favorite -- "Henri 2, Paw de Deux."

The videos that will be screened for crowds on the Walker's Open Field event space have been culled from submissions collected, appropriately, by members of the public. To curate the entries, the museum assembled a group of jurors -- each of whom, says Sarah Schultz, the Walker's Curator of Public Practice, ended up watching between 50 and 100 videos. From there, the jurors culled -- and then culled, and then culled some more -- whittling the submissions until they could compile their final choices into a composite video that would run for 65 minutes. 

The videos that made the cut, Schultz told me, were selected for both quality and range, from the meme-y to the arty. The compound film that will be screened tonight, she says, "tries to cover the real gamut of what's happening online."

But this is the Walker, which means the event won't simply be featuring LOLcats for the sake of lulz. The festival (full name: Internet Cat Film Festival) is partly about its feline films, certainly, but it's just as much about the people who come out to watch them. Much of the event, Schultz says, revolves around a question: Can digital cat videos -- the most quintessentially Internet-y thing in the world -- translate to a space that's decidedly analog? With the Walker's previous Open Field projects, Schultz notes, "we were interested to see, as a social experiment, if an online community would come together IRL around the thing they were passionate about -- around the thing they found fun." 

The film festival will ask the same question, with a species-specific twist: Can cat videos be just as appealing in the open air, experienced with others, as they are in the glare of a glowing screen? "We're sharing on the Internet," Schultz says. "The question is, would we come together to share?"

The answer, so far, seems to be "yes." The Walker's call for cat video submissions was met with over 10,000 entries -- some duplicates, yes, but many more unique, not-many-views-yet affairs that combined artistry and quirk in equal measure. And as far as attendance goes for tonight's screening of the Composite Cat Video, Schultz says, "we're estimating that we'll probably have 5,000 people." Which is a big shift from the small crowd they'd initially expected. "When we started out on this, we thought, 'Well, maybe we'll just get a laptop and a bigger monitor,'" Schultz says. Once the submissions started pouring in and they realized the enthusiasm for the event, though, they changed course, setting up the screens-and-speakers combo the museum reserves for its outdoor film and musical performances. So "the Internet videos will never look or sound better, we hope, than they will on Open Field."

The festivities tonight will feature not just the screening of the cat films themselves, but also the awarding of -- yep -- the People's Choice award for best video. Nicknamed -- yep -- the "Golden Kitty." Walker staff broke the video submissions down according to various categories (or, as they call them, CATegories) like comedy, documentary, animated, and foreign. Their jurors kept whittling those choices down until they had a final list of seven videos. They then put the final choice to a public, online vote ... and the results of that will be announced tonight. 

As far as the festival is concerned, though, the real suspense will come in the form of the people who attend it. "We've heard that people are planning on traveling from afar for the event," Schultz says. A few will dress up. And many will, of course, bring their cats.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

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