By Nicole Ellis
Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur. Happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr, purr, purr.
The Walker Art Center, a contemporary art center in Minneapolis, hosted last year’s Internet Cat Video Festival and Oakland had the honor of hosting it this year. Oakland seems like a great fit for this eccentric festival because it’s a cosmopolis of hippies, hipsters, and human cats. Yes, I’ve never seen as many people dressed up as kitties than I did on Saturday at the festival.
The festival was held at the Great Wall of Oakland, which is located on W. Grand between Telegraph and Broadway. “The Great Wall of Oakland is interested crowd-sourced content and engaging the public in art,” Issabella Shields Grantham, the director of the Great Wall of Oakland, explained. The festival did just that. The event brought art to the people and people brought art to the event all while benefiting the East Bay SPCA.
As I walked through the front entrance and past the first group of kitty enthusiasts, I heard Cruel Summer, a San Francisco based alternative punk band, blaring through the amplifier. I was a little disappointed to see they weren’t dressed up like the cast of the musical cats, but as I turned the corner and walked up to the first row of booths, that feeling ceased.
Four words I’ve never heard said in the same sentence: puking kitty gravy boats. Yes, you read that correctly. Ginger Ela and her boyfriend thought up the idea after seeing a post on laughingsquid.com of a puking squirrel gravy boat. The feline lovers immediately thought about adopting the idea and making a cat version. “We just did a kick starter after our video went viral,” Ela smiled. “If you look up puking kitty we’re like the third one that comes up.” Their kickstarter page is the first result that appears after googling “puking kitty.” They must be doing something right because they reached their $14,000 kickstarter goal and are starting to accept pre-orders on the $75 handcrafted saucy boats. “About half of our production run is sold already,” Ela said proudly.
This booth was hard to top and I have to say, the idea was practical and hilarious at the same time. Although I don’t think mounted ceramic cat heads are as hilarious, they are just as fun to look at. Aaron Vonk is a local artist who creates one-of-a-kind pieces and just recently added cat heads to his resume. He crafted a custom cat head mold that he uses to create the ceramic art, Vonk explains. The cat heads are mounted to a wooden backing, some of which are covered in colorful fabric and sold around $40.
After walking past Vonk and Ela’s booths, I decided to check out the blocked off area across the street where people we congregating around art tables. I have to mention that I’ve never seen as many cat ears in my life. A station full of different colored paper made it possible for people to cut and create their own feline ears. My favorite part about the phenomena is once the cat ears were on, it seemed to give people the extra push to be unique. It was like the ears were an invisible cloak that gave people the OK to be weird for the remainder of the day, or weirder in some cases.
I was surprised to see the array of people who were there. When I think of cat people, I think of older ladies who live in Berkeley, but that wasn’t the case. There were children, businessmen, Goths, and every type of cat person under the sun.
“People think that only women like cats, but our ticket sales indicate otherwise,” Grantham explained. “We’ve had inquiries about the festival from families with young children to hipsters to older couples.” Grantham estimates about six thousand people were to attend the event based on ticket sales.
As I left the arts and crafts area, I stood up on a rock to get an aerial view of the event. I looked out past the tented booths when I heard a group of ladies chit chatting near me. “Look at that dog!” one of them said repulsed . “Who would bring a dog to a cat festival?” she continued. One of the other ladies chimes in, “did you see it was wearing cat ears?” she asked. The lady in disgust responded, “No…” she takes a second look at the dog and sees the ears. “Oh yeah, well, I guess I like it then!” she said with a change of heart. It’s safe to say she’s a cat person.
After I do some eavesdropping, I continue to walk toward the other set of booths that line the closed off street. Booths sold specialty cat food, Purrfume, and kitty collars. But the booth that stood out to me the most was the cat-chat booth. Dennis and Rachel Sirringhaus are starting a unique venture. The husband and wife duo are launching a cat video chat website. Think of Skype and Chatroulette. The concept is simple. “Our initial vision is that people can get on[line],” Sirringhaus explained. “They’re sitting at home with their cat and their webcam and they can flick on a button and they’ll be instantly transported to someone else’s living room where that person is sitting there with their cat as well and the cats can interact and the people can interact.” Cat Video Cat is just a website for now. The Sirringhaus’ are trying to gather information and see if this concept is something that people are interested in.
They have the overall vision down, but there are attending festivals and other gatherings to see what the public thinks about it. “It might evolve into something like a social network,” Sirringhaus explained. “We also figured that for this you could fill in some initial bio information for your cat. Like how old they are, funny stuff they do, things they like and don’t like. So when you click on someone else’s cat, you find out about them immediately. And people love talking about their cats. We think cat owners like to learn about other people’s cats too.”
I love this idea. I know cat people will definitely log on to chat.
I join the crowd and walk toward the booth that was giving away t-shirts. Who would turn down a free shirt? I quickly figured out that I had to win a beanbag toss game to get the shirt. So instead of embarrassing myself, I began chit-chatting with the man behind the booth. It turns out the man, Bray Almini, works for kittyflix.com, the top internet cat video website.
“Kittyflix.com is a collection of all the best videos on the internet about cats,” Almini explained. “We are the YouTube of cat videos.”
So you want to your cat video featured on kittyflix.com? Here’s what you do: once you take the video, submit it to the website, the editorial team will review it and either accept it or deny it, and if they like it, they will send you a confirmation e-mail. Then keep an eye out for your video to appear on the site.
“We are a company that’s within its first two years and we are currently the largest cat video site on the internet,” Almini said proudly. The success of kittyflix.com has led to the creation of puppyflix.com, a website featuring puppy videos.
Although some of the cat lovers might not appreciate the puppyflix website, the festival’s beneficiary loves all things furry. The East Bay SPCA was chosen to receive proceeds raised from the event. “It was awesome,” Laura Fulda, the organization’s VP of Marketing, said about the catstravaganza. “I’m so glad they asked us to participate to raise money for the East Bay SPCA. We’ve had walk-a-thons for dogs, but nothing like that for cats.” The non-profit was successful in adopting out two kittens, one cat, and found people interested in fostering in the future.
I can definitely say that I’ve never experienced anything like this before. The people watching was fantastic. The booths were entertaining and creative. The adoptions were heartwarming. The Oakland Internet Cat Video Festival exceeded any expectations I had and I hope it makes its way back to the Bay Area soon.