Martin Kace is President of Empax, a non-profit design studio that focuses its efforts on issues of significant concern and influence. He is former CEO of Joe Boxer and Phat Farm. Martin and I discussed his latest initiative, the 9th Floor Project, which is developing a common identity for supporters of embryonic stem cell research.
What has motivated you to pursue this project?
The primary motivation is personal.
A little over 5 years ago I was up at my country house, we have some wooded land around it, a fellow was paring down some trees, mostly deadwood and parasitic sapplings. In this case he was cutting down a live tree. I was watching him do it, and he cut it in such a way that the tree struck me in the spine and the cranium. I was in a coma for a month, and it took a while to reassemble my personality and to really understand what had happened to me.
I had the usual…I don’t know if i can call it usual, but most people go about things this way…most people are angry for a while, and I was an angry person for a while. I was fairly well along my way of coming to terms with it when the [U.S.] President made his announcement about embryonic stem cell research and its future, in terms of the federal government.
What specifically was that announcement?
What he rendered was, what must have been in his own mind, a Solomonic decision. In the story of King Solomon two women that come to him claiming the same baby is their own. King Solomon said, “alright, want to split the baby in two? We’ll give half to you and half to you.” And of the women stepped forward and said, “don’t do that, give the baby to her.” And he knew the woman that said that was the mother.
A Solomonic decision, that’s usually associated with great wisdom, but in the case of stem cells, Bush’s Solomonic descision actually did split the baby in half. What it did is say, we’ve got 66 researchable stem cell lines in existence, we’re not going to allow any more to be created, and we’re going to limit ourselves to research on those 66. There are all kinds of technical problems with most of the 66 to begin with.
Once I got to understand what 66 stem cell lines meant, I was absolutely infuriated, because it was clear in short order, that this doesn’t take the research very far at all.
It had a profound affect on you.
I had never really felt a sense of mission in my life, but this just hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to do something. I was probably the perfect storm in that sort of way. My whole adult life having really regretted that I hadn’t committed myself to anything outside of business or what I was particularly working on.
This was it.
So that’s where this all got started. (more…)