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The Rolex Mentor program: the chance of a lifetime
Culture

The Rolex Mentor program: the chance of a lifetime

Wednesday, 11 December 2019
By Victoria Townsend
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Victoria Townsend

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4 min read

Which talented young artist wouldn’t dream of having a renowned master as a personal mentor for one year?

Grand Slam tennis, Formula 1, equestrian, golf and yachting events… We are all familiar with Rolex sponsorship of the most prestigious sports on earth. Rolex has also supported explorers and expeditions, including those that have reached the top of Mount Everest or journeyed to the bottom of the sea. And as a patron of the arts, it has developed partnerships with many of the world’s top artists and institutions. Equally noteworthy is the brand’s contribution to the preservation and transmission of global culture from one generation to the next, via the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative program.

Dance mentor Crystal Pite and protégée Khoudia Touré during a work session
Dance mentor Crystal Pite and protégée Khoudia Touré during a work session

Established in 2002, the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative perpetuates artistic heritage by transmitting knowledge in the disciplines of architecture, dance, literature, music, theatre, the visual arts and, since 2004, film. The proposition is a dream for promising young artists from all over the world: to collaborate with an internationally recognized Master in their field over a period of one year. More than 50 of the world’s greatest talents have served as mentors. Among them are David Hockney, Sir Anish Kapoor, Robert Wilson, Sir David Chipperfield, Jessye Norman, Toni Morrison, Mario Vargas Llosa, Kazuyo Sejima, Crystal Pite, Stephen Frears, Martin Scorsese and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. To name but a few.

How does it work?

The mentoring is divided into two parts, with disciplines alternating every two years. During 2018–2019 the program concerned architecture, dance, literature and music. In 2020-2021, film, theatre, and visual arts will be honoured, along with an eighth discipline that does not enter into the pre-established categories. The mentors and their protégés interact for a minimum of six weeks, although in many cases the artists make themselves available to spend a much longer time together, establishing solid links over long-term projects developed by the protégé, who benefits from the experience and ideas of the mentor. Imagine a young protégé invited onto the sets, and into the editing rooms, of some of the most renowned film-makers on earth.

Every two years, Rolex convokes a new advisory board of artists and related professionals who propose potential mentors.

The place and timing of their interactions is left totally up to them, with travel and other major expenses covered by Rolex, in addition to financial retribution for the time spent by both the mentors and their protégés. The program also provides funds to former protégés who propose new creations with other protégés, once their project is accepted.

Architecture mentor Sir David Adjaye with his protégée Mariam Kamara working on their project at Atelier Masomi in Niamey, Niger
Architecture mentor Sir David Adjaye with his protégée Mariam Kamara working on their project at Atelier Masomi in Niamey, Niger

Every two years, Rolex convokes a new advisory board of artists and related professionals who propose potential mentors. Once the mentors agree to take on their role, they discuss with Rolex to establish the profile of the protégé they would like to work alongside. A selecting committee of qualified experts from all over the world then identifies young potential protégés, who are invited by Rolex to submit their applications. Panel members choose three or four finalists, and a meeting is organized between them and the mentor, who makes the final decision. Direct candidature by young artists is not accepted.

And the results?

An on-stage production, a work of art completed by both the mentor and protégé, a dancer who enters the mentor’s company: these are just a few of the concrete results of these artistic collaborations. Some protégés have become artistic directors of large theatre companies, others have presented their works at the Venice Biennale. One, Tracy K. Smith, was named Poet Laureate of the United States following her mentorship with Hans Magnus Enzensberger.

Colm Toibin, mentor in literature, with his protégé Colin Barrett in Toibin's office at Columbia University
Colm Toibin, mentor in literature, with his protégé Colin Barrett in Toibin's office at Columbia University

Other pairings have led to a book, such as the urban planning recommendations written in duo by the mentor–protégé architects Sir David Chipperfield and Simon Kretz. Renowned Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite will present together with her Senegalese dance protégée Khoudia Touré their joint work at the Rolex Arts Weekend in Cape Town next February. In addition to moving on to significant careers, many protégés have collaborated with each other, and become mentors themselves. Rolex continues to follow its international artistic community. Since its creation, more than 1,100 young talents from 105 countries have been identified by 253 experts, advised by 123 artists and creators. Fifty-four artists have accepted to be mentors for 54 protégés from 34 countries.

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