As some of you may know, I organize the Edmonton International Cat Festival, an annual festival that brings cat lovers together to celebrates cats and cat culture, while raising money and awareness to support organizations that help cats in need. The inaugural festival took place last year, and the 2nd annual was just last weekend on Saturday (Caturday) May 30! In just a year, I am so amazed at how the event has grown. This year we saw more than double the attendance compared to last year (from 600 up to 1,500). More importantly, we raised triple the amount of money that goes to support the Edmonton Humane Society, Little Cats Lost, and SAFE Team Rescue (from nearly $9,000 up to $30,000)!! I’m very lucky to have supportive family and friends, many who end up volunteering to help out at the festival and many who patiently give me their thoughts on different festival things when I need second or third or fourth opinions.
Personally, putting on the Edmonton International Cat Festival hits a few different points for me. And the biggest is this: For a long time, I’ve wanted to do something for Edmonton. You’ve likely heard of Make Something Edmonton, an initiative that encourages Edmontonians to make something. Build something. So many wonderful things got their start here in Edmonton because someone had an idea, and went with it. It helps that this community is so encouraging and supportive, that a lot of ideas can start and grow successfully here in this city. So for a long time I’ve wanted to do something more for the community, but I wasn’t sure what it would look like. I knew it had to be something I was passionate about. I’m very passionate about food (hence the food blog!) but there were already so many amazing projects being created that related to food that I didn’t really think that was the best space to put my energy into (though I would happily eat everything up! ;)).
The idea for the Edmonton International Cat Festival came last year, after I heard that “Just for Cats” was a new, travelling cat film festival that was going to be touring across Canada. I was thrilled. I had jealously been watching from afar, the success and growth of the Internet Cat Video Festival in Minneapolis, and had always thought, ‘man, I hope Edmonton gets a festival like that.’ When Just for Cats was announced, I thought, here it comes! Then when I looked at the cities it would be visiting, I saw Edmonton wasn’t on the list. So disappointed, it was then that I thought, well, who cares if it’s not coming here? Why can’t we just start a cat festival ourselves? Why can’t we just make a cat festival happen here? Why don’t I do it? (As a side note, Just for Cats did end up adding an Edmonton date later on – but it hadn’t been part of the initial confirmed cities! Looking back, I’m glad it wasn’t or else I might not have that initial inspiration to start Cat Fest.)
Okay, so we could bring people together and have everyone watch cat videos, but why not do more? At the time, there had been a few different cat-themed events that were pretty one-themed – cat video festivals, cat adoption events, cat shows, or cat/pet trade shows. There hadn’t really been an all-encompassing festival that featured a bit of all of those things – and more. So that’s how #YEGCatFest was born. While it is here in Edmonton, and it certainly fills a niche for Edmonton cat lovers, I added the “international” to the title because I really do aspire for it to become so much bigger. (I also got great advice and push from NAIT’s President Dr. Glenn Feltham, who encouraged me to think big).
Today, the Edmonton International Cat Festival is Canada’s only all-encompassing cat festival, that brings cat lovers together to celebrate cats and cat culture, while raising money and awareness to support the important work cat rescues do for cats in need. My vision is to have the Edmonton International Cat Festival become a destination – a must-attend event – for all cat lovers every where! I want people to drive in/fly in for this event. I want vendors and participants from all over. I want people to plan their summer vacations with the Edmonton International Cat Festival in mind (and then stick around Edmonton for all the other fantastic summer events that take place here). I want this festival to remove the negative stigma around “crazy cat ladies” and most importantly, give back to the (cat) community.
And I think it’s well on its way to doing that.
This year’s event was a lot bigger in a few different ways – since we were slightly more established after the first year, this year we had way more vendors. Way more cat-themed business owners wanted to be a part of the event. (I am super grateful for the businesses/presenters/volunteers/etc. who wanted to get involved in the first year though. You truly helped set this fest on the path it’s on!) This year we were also in a better position to seek out sponsorship. Last year, I put out my own money for everything and/or got a lot of very generous people and organizations to provide donations (biggest donation was the venue, which we would not have gotten if the NAIT Animal Health Program staff (Linda and Elly) hadn’t been completely on board)! But this year, we were already way ahead in raising more money for the local cat rescues because of sponsorship. (Big shout-out to Nutrience Pet Food, who was our title sponsor this year). We also had more programming this year – including a “cat cafe,” “Kitten TV,” and a mock cat show judging demonstration. But perhaps the biggest draw of all – was that this year we were able to bring in a celebrity cat.
I will say, I do not think a cat festival would be as well-received, or get as much attention today, if it weren’t for the rise of celebrity cats and that whole Internet subculture of watching and sharing cat videos and photos. It’s a very big part of it. Last year, three very special cats made “virtual appearances” at the festival via Skype – I got to interview Lil Bub and her dad Mike, Nala and her mom Pookie, and the Cye and her mom Sarah. This year, I was so thrilled to be able to fly celebrity cat Pudge and her mom Kady + cat manager Ilsa in for the festival!
Pudge and her crew had a lovely visit to Edmonton! They were put up by the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald (where Pudge met her counterpart Smudge – as you can see from the photo above, they were both unimpressed with each other. Love/Hate relationshipz) – got toured around the city by myself and my friend Brittney, and did a series of media appearances ahead of the festival. Everyone wanted a piece of Pudge! (Serious thank you to all media who helped promote the festival – I spend basically $0 on paid marketing/advertisements so that we can give the most money back to cat rescue organizations, and so almost all word of mouth is generated from social media and traditional media, so I am very appreciative of the media outlets who provided pre-during-and-post coverage!)
It was lovely spending time with Pudge, Kady and Ilsa. I am truly so happy that they wanted to come to Edmonton and they wanted to attend this festival. More than 200 people lined up on Saturday to meet/pet/take selfies with her! She was a very big draw.
I’m still blown away by the response this festival has received and how the community has really latched on to it. It felt like no matter where I was – in the months leading up to the festival – I would start talking about this event and get people who were very excited or very confused, or very intrigued. Either way – every single time – I got to spread my passion and raise awareness for something that in the end, really helps helpless animals.
I’m also a-meowzed by the unbelievable amount of things I’ve learned organizing the Edmonton International Cat Festival. It’s been such an adventure putting this on and watching it grow from a tiny event that took up a theatre space and lobby/hallway, to an entire gym, to – next year – honestly, we’re going to have to find a bigger venue because we were bursting in the gym setting this year. Moving forward, I’ll be trying to let go of my control-freak tendencies a bit more, by giving more planning responsibilities to good friends who helped volunteer this year. It’s just gotten to a point where I cannot do it alone anymore (which is a great thing!) and I am grateful that I have people in my life who are just as excited to help make future fests bigger and better! Before this year’s festival even wrapped up I was already thinking of all the different things we could add and improve on for next year. We sent out feedback to those who had pre-purchased tickets and it was what came back was overwhelmingly positive. What was funny was on the question of “what did you like best?” Almost everyone said “all of the cats!” “so many cats!” “loved the cats!” and then on the question of “what did you not like?” almost everyone said “wish there had been more cats!” “wanted more cats!” “needed to pet more cats!” so – next year there really needs to be even more cats… haha!
I can’t wait to get started on planning for next year’s event – we’re even already asking you to save the date:
Saturday, May 28, 2016 – the 3rd Annual Edmonton International Cat Festival returns!
If you’d like to get involved, share ideas, collaborate, sponsor, be a vendor, whatever it is – please do not hesitate to reach out! You can email me at [email protected] or the Cat Festival email [email protected].
This whole recap was really just because I wanted to get some thoughts down on this blog about the cat festival – what it means to me and how this year’s event went. It’s such a big part of many months of my year, and it means so much to me, so it was weird that I hadn’t really done a post about it (minus a few mentions in my Social Media Notes!) It’s also a nice bit of closure on this year’s event. I plan on taking June/July off from Cat Fest Mode (sort of – there’s some things I’m already starting to get underway i.e. venue search) but end of summer and into the fall I’ll get right back into early planning stages – and picking the brains of my awesome family/friends/volunteers!
So that’s a bit of that! I leave you with a few more photos from this year’s event. Thank you to Nanc Price Photography for all of these fantastic photos! And a big, big thank you to every cat rescue organization, vendor, volunteer, media, participant – anyone who was involved in this year’s festival. Thank you!!
You can learn more about the festival at www.edmontoncatfest.com and please, spread the word! Save the date! Next year’s event is going to be paw-sitively out of this meow-orld.