When the prestigious Walker Art Center in Minneapolis was looking for a way to get people off their cell phones and personal video screens and into a more communal experience, the answer was clear.
Cat videos. Cat videos solve everything.
At the suggestion of an intern, the Walker team curated internet cat videos into a program that debuted at a free outdoor screening for the first time back in 2012. About 10,000 people showed up for that initial CatVideoFest, and in the following years, the event continued to grow, eventually becoming a nationally distributed program that will make its Louisville debut at Speed Cinema beginning Thursday, March 14.
“We didn’t know how many people would show up or be interested in this,” said Dean Otto, the film curator at the Speed who worked at the Walker when CatVideoFest premiered. “Leading up to that program, we started getting national and international interest … it was a huge success.”
The Walker team wanted to make better use of spaces around the museum, including the field where the first fest was held. More importantly, Otto said, the staff wanted to encourage patrons to engage in the increasingly threatened experience of enjoying art as a group — whether it’s an award-winning film such as “Roma” or a montage of cute animal videos.
“People were having singular experiences, and we wanted to make a community experience out of that,” Otto said. “It’s just so much more fun to have that communal experience. … People brought their cats; they came in cat whiskers and really have a lot of fun with it.”
Just an FYI — Cats aren’t allowed inside for screenings at Speed Museum. Something about claws and insurance on priceless art.
After its premiere in 2012, CatVideoFest continued to grow, eventually moving to a nearby fairgrounds and garnering a lot of media coverage, including front-page treatment from The New York Times.
It also became a substantial fundraiser for the Walker and community groups concerned with the well-being of cats.
Eventually, the Walker staff decided to focus its curation efforts elsewhere, Otto said, and the program transitioned to a national distributor. The 2019 edition of CatVideoFest will screen in dozens of cities, with a share of the proceeds going to cat care groups.
Ten percent of proceeds from the weekend’s screenings at the Speed will go to the Kentucky Humane Society and Alley Cat Advocates. Both groups will have a presence at the screenings, as will Purrfect Day Cafe (which is operated by the Humane Society) and Lucky Cat Cafe & Lounge. The groups will circulate information about their missions, including adoptions and other cat welfare efforts.
Karen Little, executive director of Alley Cat Advocates, said her organization will share information about her group’s mission of trap-neuter-return of “community cats” — animals that roam free but are feed by people who are looking out for them.
“The people we work with are very emotionally attached to the cats — they just don’t want there to be more of them in their backyards than there already are,” Little said. “They also want to improve their lives by not having them roaming and breeding … by spaying and neutering them, they are much healthier.”
Alley Cat Advocates has altered 45,000 cats since the group started 20 years ago and currently receives more than 7,000 calls a year for assistance. “So that gives you an idea of how vast the numbers are,” said Little.
The organization is in the midst of a capital campaign to greatly expand its office space for spay/neutering and other medical care for special cases of community cats in need. Alley Cat Advocates also works with folks who may not be that big a fan of having cats in their yards by setting up deterrents and other relocation measures.
Otto is not cat person, he said, but when he lived in Minnesota, his neighbors did feed community cats, and he ended up with a large group of them living in his yard. So large, in fact, that a group with the same mission as Alley Cat Advocates helped him trap and relocate about 40 cats.
“There a lot of important work being done, and it’s good to be able to support it,” he said.
The 2019 CatVideoFest will have 10 screenings beginning on Thursday, March, 14, a 6 p.m., and winding up at 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 17. For a full schedule, check the Speed Cinema website. General admission is $9.