How cats, the internet, and the future of museums are connected

Henri, le Chat Noir
Henri, le Chat Noir

Museums, like many other institutions cultural and educational, currently stand at a precipice. Our world has shifted to a landscape of social media and online interaction. Meanwhile, art museums are working fast to adapt, offering images online for free (as the Getty Museum did last month) or developing engagement strategies through sites like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

At the forefront of this massive change stands the Internet Cat Video Festival, which premiered at Walker Art Center's Open Field last year. The festival is actually the start of something beyond cats: It's a way that cultural institutions can grasp onto what's actually happening in contemporary culture.

This Thursday, the day after the #catvidfest hits the State Fair, the Walker Art Center will host a panel discussion focusing on the role museums play in contemporary culture, and how our viral world can influence what's happening inside the museum walls.

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MN State Fair to host the Walker's 2013 Internet Cat Video Festival

Pudge the Cat 
Pudge the Cat 

Over the past year, mnartists' project director Scott Stulen has been traveling the world with the Internet Cat Video Festival. Since several cat-video creators are in town for Wednesday's State Fair event, he wanted seize the opportunity to host a panel discussion to talk about some of the deeper questions of cultural production, how viral content is distributed and monetized, and what all that has to do with an art institution.

"I'm fascinated by viral content; how some of it pops up and goes away and other stuff tends to stick,"  Stulen says.

The discussion will consist of 10-minute interviews with different groups of creators. Stulen will pose questions himself and take queries from social media as well. The event will also be video recorded, and released in chapter formats online so people unable to make it can watch later. 

Guests include Will Braden, the creator of the Henri, Le Chat Noir series (whose entry in last year's festival, "Paw de Deux," was proclaimed "The best internet cat video every made" by Roger Ebert), as well as Ben Lashes, a self-described "meme manager," who helps people with accidental viral brands monetize and manage their business plans. 

Part of the discussion will focus on what makes a video go viral. "It's something you can't force," says Stulen, who has noticed that some submissions this year are similar to what was successful last year, with results that aren't as good. "Part of what makes something go viral is the unexpected," he says. While he can't pinpoint exactly what it is that makes a viral video (if he did, he'd probably be doing it), they are often humorous, have a unique point of view, and stand up to repeated viewings. And, for the most part, they are short. "They get to the point," he says. 

How cats, the internet, and the future of museums are connected
Courtesy Walker Art Center 

The Internet Cat Video Festival originally came out of mnartists' Open Field program (on hiatus this year because of construction at the Walker), which involves different experiments in social experiences and crowd-sourced content. "For a contemporary art institution, we should be relevant to what's happening in contemporary culture," Stulen says. "It can't be ignored as a cultural phenomenon." 

In the future, Stulen's goal is to take this type of format and use it with different content. "We want to move beyond cats," he says, and look at how content goes online and offline. 


Going Viral: Life as a Cat Video Creator
7 p.m. Thursday, August 29
Free; but tickets are required. Pick some up at the Bazinet Garden Lobby at 6 p.m. the night of the event. 
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Walker Art Center

1750 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403


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