Cats may roam, but eventually they come back home.
On Aug. 14, Walker Art Center will reprise its stunningly popular Internet Cat Video Festival for a third year — this time back on Open Field, the rolling green expanse next to the museum where 10,000 people gathered for the first fest in 2012.
Intended only as an experiment at first, the festival became a stellar example of togetherness in the Internet age, a place where people fond of viewing cat videos, one of the most universally popular online time-wasters, could gather IRL (in real life) for communal enjoyment of the same thing on a giant screen.
The event drew international media attention from sources as varied as the New York Times, the BBC and Cheezburger, a website largely responsible for popularizing cat videos in the first place. It also helped to make stars of Grumpy Cat, Lil Bub and other furry little divas, and spawned several — ahem — copycats, but do not be fooled: The Walker can rightfully lay claim to conceiving the original animal.
Last year, with its brick exterior under construction, the Walker moved the fest to the grandstand at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. That drew criticism from purists who felt the magic would be lost due to both the less-than-sylvan venue and the cost. The first fest was free, but last year attendees had to pay $10 on top of fair admission. Still, it drew an even bigger crowd of 11,000.
Sarah Schultz, the Walker's director of education and curator of public practice, called the State Fairgrounds "an excellent alternative venue to host a large crowd" but said that a return to Open Field was always the plan, now that construction is complete.
This summer's fest will be programmed by its first Golden Kitty (people's choice) award-winner Will Braden, the video producer behind perennially angst-filled Henri, le Chat Noir. Details on submitting videos will be announced in March.
Some observers wonder whether the cat-video supernova burned too bright, too fast, to last, but the Walker folks aren't worried about its enduring appeal.
"Cat video fans are a passionate bunch, "said publicist Rachel Joyce, noting that the festival's tours to other cities — including San Francisco, Honolulu, Montreal and Derry, Ireland — have increased the fan base. "I don't think it's time for the cat to jump the shark just yet. But it might make a cool video."