State Fair will say 'Hello, kitties' to cat-video festival

Walker Art Center will bring its wacky, popular cat-video festival to the grandstand in August.

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From left: Hilary Hubanks, Joseph McGreevy and Jerry Woulf show off their outfits at the Walker Art Center's first Internet Cat Video Film Festival, in Minneapolis, Aug. 30, 2012. The festival attracted an estimated 10,000 people, easily double what organizers expected.

Photo: Jenn Ackerman, New York Times

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A quirky little outdoor event at Walker Art Center is graduating to fat-cat status this summer.

The world's first Internet Cat Video Festival, held on the Walker's lawn last August, will be staged at the Minnesota State Fair grandstand Aug. 28. The fest, which began as a social experiment in how online communities form and crowdsource, wound up attracting 10,000 people and international media attention. Many came in feline costumes, some with pets in tow.

The last animal to bring in that many fans to a State Fair grandstand show was a dinosaur named Barney.

"It's a great fit," said Renee Pearson, deputy general manager of entertainment and marketing for the fair, who said the deal came about in a serendipitous way. "We had been talking about a way to incorporate film into the fair, and I had the Walker on my list to call." In the meantime, Scott Stulen, project director for the Walker-affiliated website MNartists.org, called them with the same idea.

"We wanted to find a way for the audience experience to be even better," said Walker spokeswoman Rachel Joyce. "The fair has the audiovisual impact for a larger crowd."

Pearson said she got a few skeptical looks from colleagues at first, "but I watched the clips and got hooked. There was no turning back."

The grandstand, with a capacity of 13,000, already features two large LED screens on stages left and right; it will add another in the middle. Like last time, this year's festival will feature several "cat"-egories, including drama, comedy, foreign and lifetime achievement. The people's choice "Golden Kitty" prize will be decided earlier in the summer via online vote.

"The only difference will be that you can't bring your cat," Pearson said.

The event will go from being free to costing $10, still quite a cheap ticket for the grandstand. A new category this year, "Cat on a Stick," will feature videos of Minnesota cats only.

"We're asking people to nominate homegrown talent," Joyce said.

Walker staff, who received more than 10,000 video entries last year, are bracing for an even bigger round. Much like the nature of cats themselves, the intensity of the fest's popularity remains somewhat of a mystery, even to them.

"We're still grappling with it and wondering, how can this be so huge?" Joyce said. "Obviously, there are a lot of people around the world spending part of their work days passing pictures of cats around."

Tickets go on sale March 9 at mnstatefair.org or 1-800-514-3849. To nominate a video, go to walkerart.org/catvidfest.

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046

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