SAN FRANCISCO—Turns out even high-art museum goers appreciate a good cat video. So much so, a full night of such digital shorts, shown in a festival at Minneapolis' Walker Art Center last year, not only returns but is also going on the road.
This Saturday, the Internet Cat Video Festival lands in Oakland, Calif., one of several planned stops that began at Austin's South by Southwest in March and includes a June screening in Vienna, Austria. While thousands of people are expected to show up this weekend in Oakland, Scott Stulen, a curator at the Walker, one of the nation’s best-known contemporary art museums, says last year they wouldn't have been surprised if the first night had been a bust.
It all started, Stulen told Yahoo News, when he and his colleagues were exploring ways the museum could use its outdoor space over the summer.
In the past, the Walker had organized talks with writers and poets, and held performances by local musicians and artists on its four-acre lawn. But this time, the museum was looking for something a little different. What if, the curators wondered, the Walker were to put up a giant movie screen on the lawn for one night and play popular cat videos from the Internet? Visitors would submit their favorite clips and a panel, including Stulen, other curators and outside artists, would pick the best ones based on artistic merit.
“We thought maybe a couple of dozen people would show up,” Stulen recalled. “I mean, we are talking about cat videos.”
But their estimates were way off. On a Thursday night just before Labor Day weekend, an estimated 10,000 people turned out to see a 70-minute reel of videos of cats acting cute, behaving badly or just simply doing nothing at all—clips that had been seen on YouTube many times before. At least 1,000 more people had been turned away because of lack of space. According to Stulen, so many turned out that exits from a nearby highway were clogged and local police had to divert traffic from the museum.
“The response was something I can tell you in our wildest hopes and estimates was way beyond what we expected,” Stulen said with a laugh. “It was really unlike anything I had ever seen before. ... I knew people loved cats and cat videos, but I don’t think I realized how deep that love was until then.”
The latest incarnation of the festival comes as cat videos seem to be more popular than ever, racking up tens of millions of views on YouTube and other sites. The videos have transformed some random felines—and their owners—into overnight celebrities, complete with pricey endorsement deals and book contracts.