Open Field blogger Katie Czarniecki Hill with her
One of the most popular social media memes making the rounds of late goes,
“What matters most in life is not how much money you have. It’s about quotes and
stuff that tell you what life is really all about. And here is a picture of a
How did this happen? How did one of the world’s
preeminent art institutions stoop to presenting something called the Internet Cat Video Film Festival, to be held outdoors on the
Walker plaza as part of its Open Field summer program Thursday, Aug. 30?
Blame/champion Katie Czarniecki Hill.
“The first time I mentioned the idea publicly was on
our Mnartists.org “Best of
2011” blog post, where each of our staffers named our five favorite things from
the year and two wishes for the following year,” says Hill, 28, who does social
media and blogging for Open Field and maintains the online data base of local
artists and live programming for Mnartists.org. “And one of my wishes was that I
would be able to have a cat video festival in Open Field. That planted the
Hill and her husband, Matt Hill, live in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood of
St. Paul with an orange and white cat named Ron and a gray tabby named Max.
Katie’s passion for cats (hashtag: #catlady4eva) has proven infectious, but how
did she convince WAC powers-that-be that a smorgasbord of whimsical cat videos
should be installed a few whiskers away from all that serious modern art?
“When spring came around and we were planning the Open Field program, I asked
if could show some cat videos on the field at the end of the summer, and right
away everyone said, ‘Yeah, that sounds fun. Sounds great. Let’s make it into a
program,’” she said.
“It was pretty lighthearted, and there were a couple other ladies in the
office who like watching cat videos, so they affirmed it was a good idea. And
[Mnartists.org project director] Scott [Stulen] helped me turn it into a public
program and we decided to take nominations and make it this community
In July, the Walker announced it was taking
nominations for the best cat videos. The story itself went viral. Over the last
few weeks, Hill and her colleagues have pored over 10,000 submitted videos.
Meanwhile, Hill has done radio interviews with shows in Australia, Ireland,
North Carolina, and NPR marketplace, and the story hit the Los Angeles Times, Time, the BBC, the
Kansas City Star, and Canadian television.
Obviously, Hill and her crew have tapped into a new opiate for the masses, a
pussy riot of our own. But while the act of watching cat videos is a rabbit (er,
kitty) hole many go down (a cat in Japan’s video has been seen by 58 million
people), the question is:
Is it art?
“That’s a great question, one that I’m not really going to speak to. I know
better,” says Hill with a laugh. “But I think the interesting, more artistic
part you can pull out of this is actually the social experiment of it all: the
participatory practice of seeing who comes, and what happens, and if people like
it, and seeing if all this Internet press translates into people actually coming
here next Thursday night.”
In the end, she attributes the popularity of cat videos to the fact that “you
can’t not laugh at a cat riding around on a vacuum,” and hopes the laughter is
“I know a lot of people like cat videos,” she said,
“and why does it have to be something you do by yourself on your computer? Maybe
that’s the way it was meant to be, but maybe we can do it