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Does the Internet Cat Video Festival really belong in a museum?

By Andy Campbell, Fri., March 15, 2013

#catvidfest: Is This the End of Art?

Friday, March 8, Austin Convention Center

It's official: "This session will include cat videos" is the new "there will be an open bar." The premise is disarmingly simple and sincere: People love cat videos; give the people what they want. That's just what Minneapolis' Walker Art Center did in August of 2012, when they programmed the first Internet Cat Video Festival. Though one could hardly call the Walker Art Center a hallowed hall of inaccessibility, Katie Hill and Scott Stulen, the instigators of ICVF, enumerated the barriers and triumphs encountered. Why cats? Is it art? Yawnsville. What Stulen and Hill thought would be "about 10 people looking at cat videos on a laptop and splitting a case of beer at the end of the summer" grew into a festival event with over 10,000 attendees. ICVF hooked into a larger programmatic scheme at the Walker to explore the theoretical concept of an "open field" in the grassy area around the museum, a literal open field. Sounds like a "roundtable on round tables," no? In any event, ICCF created a social spectacle wherein, just for a moment, everyone holds the same kinds of resources in common – cat videos.

Here was "Kittens Inspired by Kittens," and Maru, the box-loving cat. Henri the Existential Cat made a fitting finale (and garnered the people's choice award at ICVF, or "The Golden Kitty"). A couple bugbears of seriousness: one is the apparent nonresponse from the art world, and the other is how the festival parlays into real visitor-support dollars at the Walker. No doubt some development person at the Walker is still scratching his or her head like that butt-scratching cat we saw. Not that money or critical art-world praise is anything more than particularized measures of success. And you certainly don't LULZ at development meetings, do you? Thought not.

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