Rolex understands the art of mentoring. The skills and accomplishments of our watchmakers have been passed on from one generation to the next, ensuring the transmission of knowledge built up for more than a century. Similarly, an interest in contributing to the wider world, which was instilled by our founder Hans Wilsdorf, has led to a lasting contribution to the arts, part of the “Perpetual Spirit” that is his legacy and drives the company in its business and its many and varied interests.
Rolex’s strong connections to culture were forged in 1976 when it began sponsoring some of the world’s greatest artists, such as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, in a variety of disciplines. This was in keeping with our support for individuals who reflect the company’s values of performance and excellence and who strive to push back limits.
In 2002, the company went further and set up a philanthropic mentorship programme – the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. It pairs emerging artists with the world’s creative masters and by fostering these relationships, Rolex aims to perpetuate the transmission of artistic heritage.
In providing young artists in a variety of disciplines – architecture, dance, film, literature, music, theatre and visual arts – access to great masters, they are given the most precious commodity of all – time – time to spend with a mentor, time to learn, grow and create. The roll call of Rolex mentors is extraordinary, and includes Martin Scorsese, Margaret Atwood, Anne Teresa de Keersmaker, David Hockney, Kazuyo Sejima, Gilberto Gil and the late Patrice Chéreau.
Dozens of young artists around the world have now been invited to enjoy the privilege of a period of one-to-one mentoring and collaboration with the world’s greatest exponents of their disciplines. Poet Tracy K. Smith, who in 2017 was appointed the Poet Laureate of the United States, says that her collaboration with German poet and author Hans Magnus Enzensberger in 2010–2011 was “one of the most genuinely rewarding things I have done as an artist”.
Israeli film-maker Tom Shoval found himself catapulted on to the set of The Revenant, (“a completely overwhelming experience”), with Oscar winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu in 2014–2015. The mentorship continues to change his life. Even after it officially ended, Iñárritu has has offered support and advice.
The mentor gets as much inspiration as the protégé.
Visual artist Sammy Baloji from the Democratic Republic of the Congo found that his 2014–2015 mentorship with Olafur Eliasson “freed me up to explore and to work without self-imposed restrictions”. Baloji’s career has taken off with his photo collage and installation work shown at major art venues such as the Venice Biennale and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in the United States.
For the mentors, the mentoring relationship is refreshing. Opera singer Jessye Norman mentored Susan Platts in 2004–2005 and stays in contact, such is the friendship they developed. “The way artists used to learn their craft, by working together with someone who knew how to do it for many years: that is the way people used to learn. And Rolex is making it possible for all of us – because the mentors learn as well – to work this way again, says Norman. “And it is quite unbelievable.”
Film-maker Martin Scorsese, who mentored Argentinian film-maker Celina Murga in 2008–2009, concurs. “The mentor gets as much inspiration as the protégé.” Scorsese has also continued to offer his support to Murga and was the executive producer on her third film La tercera orilla (The Third Side of the River) in 2013.
British painter David Hockney says, “Good teachers have always learnt from their students.” In 2017, when he had a major touring retrospective, he gave his protégé, German painter Matthias Weischer, a personal tour of the exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. “We’re both interested in the same things – space and things in space. So I’ve kept friendly with him. He’s a very nice person and one of the really good painters around.”
Good teachers have always learnt from their students.
The relationships between mentors and protégés are assisted by a selection process that finds protégés who would most benefit from a mentoring relationship. While mentors are proposed by an Advisory Board, protégés are invited to apply after nominating panels for each discipline propose protégés who best fit a profile described by a mentor. Many mentors wish to collaborate with a young artist who comes from a culture very removed from their own.
The pairs are permitted to decide the best way to interact and can have a period of mentoring up to two years. Each protégé receives a grant with funds for travel and further assistance to create a new piece of work once the formal mentorship has concluded. Mentors receive an honorarium in recognition of the time and energy spent with the protégés.
Since its creation, the programme has evolved into a growing community of artists spanning the world from Togo, Paraguay, Honduras, China and beyond, embracing different generations, cultures and disciplines.