David Kleeman’s Acceptance Speech at the KAPi Awards:


I know well who has stood here before me, and that just deepens the honor.

Dale Dougherty’s work to spark the maker movement calls to mind a wonderful quote from Fred Rogers: “no matter what the machine may be, it was people who thought it up and made it, and it’s people who make it work.”

Mark Schlichting exemplifies for me the idea that if you start from insight, empathy and creativity, technology will adapt to accommodate your vision.

Ge Wang serenaded us with a digital musical instrument of his own making.

These pioneers make wonderful, tangible things that engage, delight, challenge and inspire young people. I recognized early on that I wasn’t built to make things, but that I did have an ability and inclination to “make things better.” In some contexts, that would be called a “busybody,” but I’ve always tried to support and extend creators’ visions, not usurp them.

Engage creators in thoughtful give-and-take, introduce them to new perspectives or possibilities, and encourage them to keep refining because, in children’s media, “good enough” isn’t good enough. I love watching producers perfect tiny details of their program, game or app – things no child or parent would ever notice, but they would.

My pioneer’s journey can be traced to a single hour in 1975 – a lecture by Sesame Street co-creator Gerry Lesser, when I was a college freshman. I was already a rarity – a male studying to become a preschool teacher, at Harvard. My roommates studied political philosophy and organic chemistry, I watched “The Electric Company.” I win.

A pioneer’s view changes constantly – in 40 years with children’s media, I’ve never been bored. Woody Allen said “80% of success is just showing up,” but I was incredibly lucky about showing up at the right time.

I started in “ox-cart days,” when children’s media meant TV, there wasn’t much of it, almost none developmentally focused. We traded up to a cattle team with the arrival of multi-channel cable, and a horseless carriage with the advent of CD-ROMs. When packaged media gave way to the Internet, the rutted pioneer track became the “information superhighway,” and the horseless carriage now speeds like a Ferrari, but with the load capacity of an 18-wheeler.

From 4 channels to YouTube; from “the box in the corner” to “anything/anytime/anywhere”; from “what we want to tell you” to “what do you want to know” – I can’t imagine a more stimulating and challenging era for blazing a trail through the world of children and media.

And with such great companions. Pioneers’ survival depended on surrounding themselves with people with complementary knowledge and skills – and they’d better be good company, too.

I’ve had mentors and protectors every step of the way. The head of programming at PBS moved me from department to department so I’d learn all facets of broadcasting. Ten years after a brief informational interview, Jim Fellows remembered me and entrusted me with the festival and center he’d founded, a job that lasted 25 years. My PlayCollective colleagues provide a powerful base of expertise and insights from which to launch new pioneering explorations.

But, the people I met along the way made pioneering possible – and so enjoyable. Most of what I know about children’s TV comes late night drinks with the British delegation to the international children’s TV festival. Similarly, most of what I know about kids, learning and digital media comes from doing the same with the legends and young disrupters at Dust or Magic. I’m getting too old for the late nights, but you’re never too old to listen.

Many people know me as a “connector.” I love to help people with passion realize their visions, and that often involves linking them to people with complementary information or ideas. I often joke that in an industry built on non-disclosure agreements, I’ve spent a career building safe spaces for people to disclose. Children’s media is truly special and unique – I can’t think of another area where people are so generous with their expertise and experience.

A good friend of mine, who’s made interactive media since 1977, says “I’ve been on the cutting edge so long, it’s a wonder I haven’t bled to death.” Maybe tonight I could borrow that, and with a nod to “Oregon Trail,” say that I’ve been pioneering so long, it’s a wonder I haven’t died of dysentery. Fortunately, I’m nowhere near done, so thank you again and Westward Ho!