The Internet Cat Video Festival at the Walker


In 2012, word spread around the world at viral speed of the Walker Art Center’s Internet Cat Video Festival—the first of its kind and enough of an exercise in quixotic pointlessness to prove strangely fascinating. After all, why go sit in a field with a crowd of other people to watch videos of standoffish and arrogant house pets outside of the proper setting: on a computer monitor, while avoiding work?

When I reached the Walker’s Open Field on the big night, I realized I’d grossly underestimated the festival’s allure: a sea of bodies filled every square foot of the grass, hundreds stood where there was no place to sit, everyone waiting for the sun to set. In the gloaming of dusk, headlights paraded all the way out to Hennepin Avenue and beyond, and it dawned on me: There were more people coming to this thing than there was space for them.

Photos by Gene Pittman, courtesy of the Walker Art Center

Now, I’ve lived with a succession of feline companions pretty much my entire life and appreciate their eccentricities as much as anyone: their jumpy paranoia, disregard for anything remotely related to my well-being, and personalities ranging from chillingly murderous to aggressively cuddly. So the short videos themselves, including those featuring Henri Le Chat Noir (the brooding Brando of the cat set) as well as more off-the-cuff efforts, hit an entertainment sweet spot—of sorts. But there was no escaping the disconnect: This was the left-field cultural surprise of the season?

Photos by Gene Pittman, courtesy of the Walker Art Center

Turns out there’s no fighting it. Last year’s iteration attracted hordes at the State Fair Grandstand (attendance just south of 10,000), with a proliferation of costumes, false whiskers, and cat T-shirts exploding into the realm of the outrageously competitive. Back on the Open Field this year, and curated by the creator of those ennui-laced Henri videos Year Three promises to cement its status as a homegrown tradition (one touring to ports including New Orleans and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), a great Minnesota get-together for the YouTube era.

Yet one irony remains: I may be on that hillside this month, hoping to spot the next Talking Cat or Cat vs. Toaster moment, but a furry gray feline called McNulty will be back at my house sleeping, supremely indifferent to what I find charming or amusing and, as far as I can tell, beyond caring whether or not I intend to return at the end of the night.

Web Extra: Watch All the Videos From Past Internet Cat Video Festivals

2013 videos

2012 videos 

Photo courtesy of Walker Art Center

Quinton Skinner is a writer and editor based in the Twin Cities. A former senior editor of Minnesota Monthly, he held the same post at Twin Cities METRO and 
has written for major national and local publications. He is the co-founder of Logosphere Storysmiths and author of several novels, including his latest, Odd One Out.