Rolex is famous for taking the long view in every aspect of its activities. Its collaboration with the National Geographic Society, for instance, stretches back to 1954; the partners’ latest project is Perpetual Planet Extreme Expeditions, a five-year exploration of Earth’s most extreme environments.
In the same vein of things, the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative reflects the brand’s commitment to investments for the future, with a programme that’s specifically tailored for the arts.
The Rolex Art Initiative
Set up in 2002, the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative is borne of the belief that art is a continuum upon which experiences accumulate – all artists are inspired by those who went before them, upon whose works and experiences they will add. To that end, the brand has worked to encourage the transfer of knowledge from one generation of artists to the next. By providing this unique framework of corporate support, Rolex aims to enable the growth of emerging artists so that they too can, in time, flourish and make contributions of their own.
Every two years, Rolex convenes an advisory board comprising artists and practitioners, which nominates the masters who are deemed suitable to serve as mentors. When a nominee agrees to participate, Rolex then works with him or her to establish the criteria for his or her protégé. Next, a separate panel is formed to identify and recommend suitable young artists, who are invited to submit their applications. From the applicants, the panel sifts out three to four finalists. The mentor will then meet the candidates before choosing his protégé.
It’s a seemingly tedious process, but it highlights the exacting way Rolex runs its programmes. By setting up independent boards and panels, each with its own industry insiders, the brand is able to leverage on the knowledge and networks of these people. At the same time, the selection process is able to remain impartial while still taking the mentors’ views into consideration.
Rolex asks that mentors and protégés interact for at least six weeks during the mentoring period, which takes place over two years. Most pairs, however, spend considerably more time together, and often collaborate further on other projects outside of the Rolex Arts Initiative. A common framework involves having the protégé undertake a project of his or her choosing, with the mentor then providing advice and support. At the end of the two years, the achievements of mentor and protégé are honoured over a weekend of public celebrations – this year in Cape Town.
Rolex has recently announced four pairs of mentors and protégés for the 2020-2021 edition of the Rolex Arts Initiative.
In the category of film, American filmmaker Spike Lee has picked Native American filmmaker Kyle Bell as his protégé. Bell has over the past five years worked to tell the stories of Native Americans who, in his words, have “stories that don’t get told [and] voices [that] are not heard”. His previous works include Heartland Emmy-winning documentary show Osiyo: Voices of the Cherokee People, as well as various short documentaries that have been screened at various film festivals around the world. Bell was also named a 2019 Sundance Indigenous Programme Fellow.
British director Phyllida Lloyd is the mentor for the theatre category this time, and she has chosen to work with Whitney White, an American theatre director, musician, composer and actor. White is an artistic associate at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company, and has directed a variety of genres from classics to contemporary plays that deal with modern issues.
For visual arts, the mentor in this edition of the programme is Carrie Mae Weems, who creates in various mediums but is best known for her work in photography. She has picked Colombian filmmaker and visual artist Camila Rodríguez Triana as her protégé. The latter has exhibited her art in South America and Europe and, as the founder of Heka Films SAS, been responsible for acclaimed features that explore the limits between documentary and fiction.
Last but not least, the open category sees Pulitzer Prize, Grammy, Emmy, and Tony awards winner Lin-Manuel Miranda as the mentor. The man behind Hamilton has chosen Argentinian filmmaker Agustina San Martín to be his protégé. Martin was awarded the Special Mention Jury Prize for Best Short Film at the 72nd Cannes Festival for Monster God, and has just completed her feature film To Kill A Beast.
There is much to anticipate from these four pairs of mentors and protégés, given the former’s expertise and experience, and the latter’s immense potential. The Rolex Arts Initiative looks set to embark on yet another successful chapter.