Now, you can add one more word to the list: famous.
We know what you’re thinking: I don’t even like cats. Why are there famous cats? This can’t be a thing.
Well, it is a thing, as anyone who went to the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Internet Cat Video Festival last weekend can tell you. People gathered from all over the Midwest to come watch cat videos, buy cat stuff, and meet self-proclaimed “magical, one-of-a-kind space cat” Lil BUB. And yes, Lil BUB is famous—she has more than one million followers on Instagram. We can safely bet that’s more than you have.
Attendees had many different reasons for coming. Some showed up for the videos. Some came to meet new people. Some were excited beyond words to meet Lil BUB and shed many tears of happiness after their space-kitty encounter. Everyone came for the happiness.
“Unlike dogs and dog owners—where you have dog parks and areas where you socially meet other dog owners—for cat owners, cats are primarily in the home, so the Internet is kind of the cat park. What this allows is people that are interested in cats and cat culture to come together,” said Scott Stulen, creator of the festival and Audience Experiences curator at the IMA.
Every year, the festival gives out the Golden Kitty award to the best video from the festival. This year, the award went to Alana Grelyak and her husband for their short, “Cat Behavior Finally Explained.”
“We were just kind of messing around,” said Grelyak. “You know that old Mastercard video? We did a kind of a little spoof on that, but it was all about all the weird things that cats do. We have five cats at this point, so we’re pretty well versed in the weird things that cats do.” The video series by the Grelyaks can be found on the YouTube Cat CATastrophes, where the couple creates funny videos to promote shelter adoption.
Back in 2012, Stulen put together the first Internet Cat Video Festival for the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis. He planned for an interesting, one-off community event that would attract several hundred people before disappearing into the sunset.
Things did not go according to plan. An estimated 10,000 people showed up, and, three years later, the event has gone international, with satellite shows popping up all over the globe.
When Stulen moved to Indianapolis, he felt there was an underlying assumption that he would bring the festival with him. He happily obliged, setting up the first-ever Internet Cat Video Festival satellite gathering at the IMA as a part of the museum’s ARTx initiative.
After Stulen’s move to Indianapolis, Will Braden, creator of internet sensation “Henri, le Chat Noir” and winner of the original Golden Kitty Award, took over curation of the festival’s reel. Inspired to create his viral, award-winning cat series by a fit of procrastination in film school, he has taken the series and run with it, while simultaneously helping create the programming for the festival.
“It sounds cheesy, but once all of this work is done putting it together and the big event in Minneapolis happens, then, really, the hard work of my job is done, and all I have to do is travel around and introduce it,” Braden says with a grin. “Because the reel always works, because people always like it and always have a good time, it’s a bit like being the opening act for a comedian that always kills. You don’t really have to do anything but just enjoy the ride, so that’s the funnest part.”
This year at the IMA, whether it was because of the community, the videos, or the mere presence of internet sensation Lil BUB, the event promptly sold out, proving that the popularity of cat videos extends far beyond the confines of the internet.
For Stulen, the argument about whether or not cat videos equate to art is mundane. That doesn’t mean this installation doesn’t belong in a museum. “What is art is how we come together as a community and how we come together as a society,” he explained. “It’s actually not about cat videos, it’s about watching cat videos together.”
The IMA is set to continue its ARTx programming with Monster Drawing Rally on December 3, B-Movie Bingo with a showing of Samurai Cop on December 10th, and a Winter Solstice Community Day on December 17 that will be centered around a new art installation of a 50-foot Christmas tree made out of toys.